THE common saying is that you know you’re witnessing the efforts of a good side when their performance is not up to standard but three points are still secured, like they were by Hibs in West Lothian.
For 82 minutes at Almondvale, the 6000-plus travelling support were unsure whether they were going to leave the stadium with even a point, as much a consequence of Livingston’s doggedness in derailing most of the Hibs players from their intentions as anything else.
The supporters from Edinburgh seriously outnumbered their hosts inside the ground but at times it appeared like there were more home players than away ones on the field as Hibs continually found themselves crowded out in a cluttered midfield area as they toiled to attain a grip on the proceedings. The tight dimensions of the Almondvale pitch certainly did not assist with Tony Mowbray’s flowing style or indeed his formation which saw Scott Brown and Derek Riordan flank a three-man midfield of Guillaume Beuzelin, Kevin Thomson and Michael Stewart. Only when Mowbray utilised his team’s versatility, did Hibs look transformed.
In particular, the placing of Brown from wide right to the centre of midfield was a critical factor in the late resurgence. Livi took the lead shortly before half-time when Greg Strong’s drive from a James McPake’s lay-off on the 18-yard line found the back of the net. Hibs’ second-half display did little to appease any tormented souls, including Mowbray. Riordan had a glorious chance from a Beuzelin backheel but sent his left-footed shot into the stand before Ivan Sproule and Dean Shiels were introduced.
Livingston almost doubled their advantage with a Richard Brittain drive on 69 minutes which Zibi Malkowski did well to tip wide. In the end, Hibs had a reshuffling of the pack to thank for their three points and sixth-successive away league victory. Steven Fletcher replaced Riordan and was ordered to partner the lone striker Garry O’Connor through the middle as Hibs headed into the closing stages with virtually four men in attack. Brown was moved into the centre of midfield and instantly began dictating play.
Sproule’s run and shot deflected off the excellent Paul Tierney and into Shiels’ path to be swept home for the equaliser. After a driven shot by Livingston substitute Paul Dalglish, Garry O’Connor struck the winner with his less-favoured left foot via a deflection off the unlucky Allan Walker to somehow salvage a dramatic victory, much to the delight of their fans.