Livi rounded off a fairytale season by securing promotion to the Ladbrokes Premiership with a 3-1 aggregate victory over Partick Thistle.
Keaghan Jacobs grabbed the only goal of the second leg at Firhill less than a minute into the second half to seal the Lions’ return to the top flight for the first time in twelve years, condemning the Jags to relegation in the process.
Coming into the match with a 2-1 lead from the first leg, it was hardly surprising that David Hopkin named an unchanged side for the Lions’ final match of the season. A raucous atmosphere greeted the players as they emerged from the tunnel, with over 2,000 fans having made the journey through from West Lothian to roar their side on to the finish line.
Thistle knew that, if they were to have any chance of getting back into the tie, they had to match the Lions’ desire and intensity but Christie Elliot perhaps took that to the extreme with a crunching tackle on Scott Robinson after four minutes for which he was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.
They also knew an early goal was crucial and Chris Erskine saw a shot blocked after good work from Blair Spittal, before Adam Barton picked up a yellow card for a professional foul to stop a Livi counter attack. Martin Woods then required treatment for a few minutes after picking up a knock but was OK to continue. Steven Lawless then got in down the left but his cross was headed harmlessly wide by Erskine.
Livi were content to sit back and let Thistle try and break them down and they were able to repel everything thrown at them with ease. The Lions had their first effort at goal on 34 minutes when Jacobs’ free kick was met by Craig Halkett but his header flew comfortably over the bar.
Jordan Thompson then saw an effort from inside the box charged down by Kris Doolan after the Jags striker’s clearance had fallen to him, before the Livi midfielder picked up a ridiculous yellow card after a clash of heads with Andrew McCarthy. Shaun Byrne then took advantage of a slip from McCarthy to run in on goal but took too long to shoot, allowing Barton to block.
Having done such a sterling job of keeping the Jags at bay, Livi almost fell behind on the stroke of half-time when Byrne’s clearance was charged down and Spittal drove forward to fire in a low drive that Neil Alexander did brilliantly to get down and tip wide of the post, maintaining Livi’s aggregate lead at the interval.
Half-time: Partick Thistle 0-0 Livingston (agg 1-2)
The Lions made an extraordinary start to the second and took a giant step towards the Premiership as they took the lead on the day just 35 seconds after the restart. Alan Lithgow’s long throw was flicked on by Lee Miller and Byrne laid the ball for Jacobs to curl a sweet strike into the bottom corner of the net, sparking jubilant scenes both on the pitch and in the away end.
Now needing two goals just to force extra time, Thistle needed to throw caution to the wind but showed little urgency to do so, forcing manager Alan Archibald to send on Conor Sammon in place of McCarthy on 55 minutes to try and spark his side into life. Livi made their first change four minutes later as Thompson was replaced by Nicky Cadden.
In total command of the tie, Livi returned to their original tactic of keeping things tight but they were almost caught out when Paul McGinn got in behind Cadden but his low cutback was comfortable for Alexander. Thistle then made their second change as Ryan Edwards – who entered the field to a less than complimentary comparison to Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Jack Sparrow from the Livi fans – came on for Woods.
The Lions’ resolute defending forced the home side into long range efforts, Lawless the first to try his luck with a 25-yard strike that was straight down the throat of Alexander. Spittal then danced his way through a couple of Livi challenges but his shot was tame and comfortably held by Alexander.
Another Thistle chance came and went on 77 minutes as Baily Cargill’s deep cross found Elliot at the back post but his powerful header was, yet again, straight at Alexander.
The home fans were soon streaming towards the exits as their chances of a dramatic fightback dwindled with each passing second, though they were handed one last lifeline in the final minute of normal time as Lithgow was rightly penalised for a handball in the box, picking up a yellow card for his trouble. They couldn’t take it, though, as Alexander sprung to his right to party Sammon’s spot kick.
Thistle were flattened by that miss and Livi cruised through injury time, before referee John Beaton’s final whistle brought wild celebrations from players and fans alike as Livingston Football Club officially became a Premiership club once again.
Full-time: Partick Thistle 0-1 Livingston (agg 1-3)
Partick Thistle: Cerny, McGinn, Barton, Cargill, Elliott, Woods (Edwards 70), McCarthy (Sammon 55), Spittal, Erskine (Booth 75), Lawless, Doolan
Subs not used: Storey, Scully, Devine, Penrice
Livingston: Alexander, Gallagher, Halkett, Lithgow, Jacobs, Pittman, Byrne, Thompson (Cadden 59), Longridge, Miller (McMillan 68), Robinson (Buchanan 79)
Subs not used: Mullin, Frizzell, Malley
Goals: Jacobs (46)
Referee: John Beaton
Match Report Andy Crawford
Photos: Rae Irvine