Livi suffered late agony as a familiar face came back to haunt them in a pulsating six-goal thriller against Queen of the South at a sun-kissed Palmerston.
Former cult hero Nikolay Todorov struck in injury time to salvage a point for the Doonhamers after goals from Raffaele De Vita, Craig Halkett and Ryan Hardie – having hotfooted it back from Andorra after playing for Scotland U-21s last night – had overturned the home side’s two-goal lead, given to them by quickfire strikes from Joe Thomson and Lyndon Dykes.
David Hopkin made two changes to the Livi side that started the goalless draw with Falkirk as Lee Miller and Scott Robinson came in for Steven Boyd and Hardie, who wasn’t risked from the start after his journey back from the Spain-France border.
It was the Lions who had the first chance inside a minute when Jackson Longridge played a neat one-two with Miller to get in behind but he sclaffed his shot and it was easily gathered by Jack Leighfield in the Queens goal.
The home side then had two great chances to take the lead on eight minutes when Stephen Dobbie fired a low shot against the post from the edge of the box and, when the ball came back to him, his follow-up effort fizzed just wide. Livi’s next chance came on 17 minutes as Alan Lithgow fired in a looping cross that was met by Robinson but he could only head wide.
There was a bit of a lull in proceedings after that but the match burst back into life just before the half-hour mark as Queens took command of the match with two quickfire goals. First, Dobbie laid the ball for Thomson, who had a brief loan spell at Livi earlier in the season, and he fired a superb low strike past Neil Alexander from 25 yards. Then, barely two minutes later, Longridge lost out to Dom Thomas in midfield and he broke down the left and fired in a low cross for Dykes to steer home.
The Lions were reeling but almost pulled one back on 32 minutes when Robinson’s back post cross was met by Longridge but his header was kept out by a fine fingertip save from Leighfield. Livi did get back into it three minutes from the interval when, after Miller had been fouled 25 yards out, De Vita stepped up and curled a sublime free kick round the walk and into the net to send the Lions in at the interval just the one goal behind.
Half-time: Queen of the South 2-1 Livingston
Livi boss Hopkin made a change at the interval as Gregor Buchanan was replaced by Shaun Byrne, with Declan Gallagher stepping back into his more familiar defensive position. The Lions, buoyed by De Vita’s strike, started the second half brightly and Robinson came close with a shot from just inside the box that came off the unsighted Miller.
Their efforts were rewarded on 53 minutes as they drew level when Alan Lithgow launches another arrow of a long throw into the box and it was met by Halkett and he bulleted a header past Leighfield at his near post. Smelling blood, the Lions then made their second change as Hardie came on for Robinson three minutes later.
The change paid almost instant dividends as the comeback was completed on 61 minutes when Halkett went on a marauding run out of defence before releasing Miller down the left and his cross was perfect for Hardie to loop a header over Leighfield and make it 3-2.
The hosts’ Shaun Rooney picked up the game’s first yellow card on 66 minutes after appearing to lash out at Halkett while trying to disrupt the Livi wall at a free kick. The free kick eventually came to nothing and Livi almost made it 4-2 a minute later as Keaghan Jacobs played in Hardie but his low shot was saved by Leighfield.
There was a moment of real controversy on 71 minutes when Dykes appeared to catch Gallagher with an elbow, much to the Livi defender’s fury. The incident was clearly seen by referee Steven McLean but he somehow deemed it worthy of only a yellow card. Sensing what might be coming, Queens boss Gary Naysmith hauled off his goalscorer, replacing him with Daniel Carmichael.
Livi made their final change on 78 minutes as Nicky Cadden came on for Miller before De Vita came within a whisker of a fourth goal as he fired in a low shot that had the Livi fans were up as the net bristled but it was on the wrong side and it stayed 3-2.
Queens made their final change soon after as Todorov replaced Thomas before another huge moment of controversy in injury time as the ball broke to Longridge and he squared for Hardie to tap home. Offside was given though, apparently against Longridge, though the flag didn’t go up until Hardie had the ball at his feet a yard out with the goal at his mercy.
That decision incensed David Hopkin and his anger was compounded soon after as Queens drew level. Livi have been on the right end of a few late goals in recent weeks but the shoe was on the other foot this time as, after Alexander had made a superb reflex save, the ball broke to Todorov and he fired home from 10 yards to rescue a point for Queens and keep them within three points of the playoffs. Livi remain second, now six points clear of third-placed Morton.
Full-time: Queen of the South 3-3 Livingston
QOS: Leighfield , Rooney, Marshall, Fordyce, Cameron, Thomas (Todorov 80), Dobbie, Thomson, Jacobs, Todd (Lyle 73), Dykes (Carmichael 74)
Subs not used: Rankin, Murray, Mercer, Lyle
Goals: Thomson (28), Dykes (30), Todorov (90)
Livingston: Alexander, Lithgow, Halkett, Gallagher, De Vita, Pittman, Buchanan (Byrne 45), Longridge, Robinson (Hardie 56), Jacobs, Miller (Cadden 78)
Subs not used: Maley, Mullin, Boyd, McMillan
Goals: De Vita (41), Halkett (52), Hardie (60)
Referee: Steven McLean
Match Report: Andy Crawford
Photos: Rae Irvine