The Lions roared off the bottom of the Scottish Championship for the first time since November as they left Kirkcaldy with a four-goal win for the second time this season and results elsewhere went their way on a dream afternoon for Mark Burchill’s boys.
Livi’s emphatic win, coupled with Alloa’s loss at Hibernian, took the Lions up to ninth on goal difference heading into the final fixtures of the season on Saturday and to within a point of avoiding automatic relegation.
Mark Burchill was forced into two changes to the side that had lost 3-1 to Hibs on Wednesday, with Darren Cole suspended and Jordan White only recovering sufficiently from his knock against Hibs to take a place on the bench. Craig Sives and Jason Talbot took their places.
The Livi players knew victory was essential and they started the game with a real appetite to claim the three points. They almost received an early boost from a familiar face on five minutes when Keaghan Jacobs whipped a dangerous cross into the box and Paul Watson only just avoided putting the ball into his own net. There was an early break in play as pantomime villain Calum Elliot received treatment for an injury. The treatment was in vain and the ex-Hearts striker had to be stretchered off to be replaced by Christian Nade.
The Lions were well on top and eventually got their reward on 19 minutes with a little help from the far side linesman as, after Rovers had failed to deal with a corner, Callum Fordyce looped a header goalward that, despite Ryan Conroy’s best efforts, was adjudged to have crossed the line. Raith keeper Kevin Cuthbert was booked for his protests. Things weren’t all going the Lions’ way however as word came through from Central Park that Cowdenbeath had taken a shock lead against champions Hearts.
Livi continued to pour forward at will and should have doubled their lead on 26 minutes when Talbot found Fordyce on the right and continued his run into the box to get on the end of the cross but he had to stretch to make a connection and his effort from close range flew high over the bar. Better news filtered through from elsewhere that Hearts had bagged an equaliser at Cowdenbeath and Hibs had broken the deadlock at home to Alloa. Myles Hippolyte tried his luck from distance but it flew straight at Cuthbert.
That proved to be the final action of note in the first half though, across the Forth at Easter Road, Hibs were doing their bit for the cause as they doubled their lead against Alloa. Livi went in at the break with a crucial lead and with results elsewhere going pretty well too.
Livi had been by far the dominant side and they came out for the second half determined to add comfort to the scoreline. Within three minutes they had done just that when Keaghan curled a free kick into the box, Fordyce put pressure on the goalkeeper and the ball broke to Sives and he reacted quickly to coolly place the ball into the unguarded net to make it 2-0. The Livi boss made his first change soon after the goal as Hippolyte was replaced by Gary Glen.
The Lions were rampant by now and claimed a third goal on 54 minutes when Keaghan sent another free kick to the back post, Fordyce knocked the ball back across goal and Danny Mullen glanced a header beyond Cuthbert and into the net to spark wild celebrations among the travelling black and yellow army behind the goals. Livi then made their second change two minutes later as Keaghan, who had just been booked, was replaced by Jordan White. Raith also made their second change, bringing on Grant Anderson for the ineffectual Barrie McKay. At Easter Road, Hibs had increased their lead to 3-0 over Alloa, though they were quickly pegged back to 3-1, while Hearts were still on level terms with Cowdenbeath.
Livi weren’t done yet and they bagged a fourth goal on 74 minutes when Sives smashed a loose ball across goal and former Lion Craig Barr did his old side a turn and bulleted a header past his own goalkeeper at the near post. Any fears the Livi fans may have had of an Alloa fightback were allayed soon after as word came through that Hibs had made it 4-1 at Easter Road. Livi made their last change as Michael McKenna replaced Talbot with 12 minutes to go.
Raith had offered virtually nothing as an attacking force but they were gifted a chance to grab a consolation when Declan Gallagher bundled over Mark Stewart in the box. There was really nothing for the Livi fans to worry about as Lewis Vaughan’s penalty was brilliantly turned over the bar by Darren Jamieson for his ELEVENTH penalty save in the last two seasons.
A spontaneous cheer broke out among the Livi support late on as word came through that Hearts had claimed a 93rd-minute winner against Cowdenbeath to set the seal on a perfect afternoon for the Lions. The combination of results lifts Livi up to ninth on goal difference ahead of Alloa, just a point behind Cowdenbeath as the relegation dogfight goes to the final day.
Three weeks ago, Livi were six points behind Alloa and eight behind Cowdenbeath, but now they go into next week’s final game against Queen of the South knowing a victory, combined with Cowdenbeath failing to win at Alloa, would secure the Lions’ Championship place for next season, while a point against Queens will secure a place in the play-off regardless of the result at Alloa.
Suffice to say this is the biggest match in Livi’s recent history and a huge crowd at the Energy Assets Arena would go a long way to achieving the desired result. Gate prices have been slashed for the big match and it would be great to see a big turnout from the West Lothian community to roar the Lions to safety!