For opposing manger Robbie Neilson to concede Hearts were “lucky” to come away with all three points on Saturday shows how far Livingston have progressed under Mark Burchill.
Although the former Celtic and Hearts striker’s record since succeeding predecessor John McGlynn in December stands at a solitary win from his eight in charge, the 5-1 thrashing of Dumbarton just over three weeks ago, Livi are giving everything they can muster up in their battle against the drop.
The Lions’ previous visit to Gorgie in September, a calamitous 5-0 loss, was never on the cards this time round as the West Lothian outfit, like last weekend’s encounter at the Energy Assets Arena, matched the league leaders for work-rate and commitment.
Not only is there a belief beginning to emerge among the ranks of the Championship’s bottom club that safety might just be around the corner, but it’s clear Burchill has instilled a real freshness to his rejuvenated squad over the past few weeks.
Nonetheless, with three points continuing to separate Livi from second-bottom Alloa, and just 12 league fixtures remaining, time is ticking in the race for survival.
“It was similar to last week in that we matched Hearts in a lot of areas,” the Livi boss admitted despite the narrow loss. “For them to score a goal as innocuous as that, albeit it was a great finish, it should have been cleared beforehand. But at times I thought Hearts were running out of ideas and didn’t know how to get through us.
“There were a lot of good performances in our dressing-room and I’m happy with a lot of our play but disappointed with the result. It’s something that’s happened, though, in the games I’ve been here, but obviously now we need to start getting the points on the board.
“That’s me had eight games in management and three of them have been against Hearts – I could have had a better run of fixtures!”
The Tynecastle side’s winner that Burchill alluded to was rather fortuitous, Jamie Walker capitalising as the ball rebounded kindly to the winger inside the visitors’ penalty area before showing terrific composure to round Livi No.1 Darren Jamieson for what turned out the be the only goal of the game.
The home side certainly threatened to add to their lead over the course of the 90 minutes as Livi too, gave a decent account of themselves in the final third – Jordan White forcing Neil Alexander into tipping his net-bound half volley round the post while a Craig Sives header required a similar intervention from the former Rangers goalkeeper.
Defender Jason Talbot’s reckless challenge on Hearts’ Sam Nicholson during the first half of last weekend’s encounter had dominated much of the build-up to Saturday’s return match at Tynecastle, Talbot subsequently omitted from the starting XI after incurring a two-match ban for his actions while Nicholson, was forced to settle for a place on the substitutes’ bench.
And Referee Alan Muir, like last weekend’s official Brian Colvin, was all too eager to stamp his authority as six players received cautions while the Lions’ Slovenian midfielder Nejc Praprotnik, was sent off 15 minutes from time for his second bookable offence – a challenge his manager felt he didn’t have to make.
“I think the second one is a yellow card but I’m not sure about the first one as I didn’t see it. But once you’re on a yellow card, you can’t go to ground – we all know that,” said Burchill. “It was a stupid challenge as he could have used his body. If that was a Hearts player on a Livingston player then I’d have expected a yellow card as well.”
Frontman White couldn’t disguise his frustrations after coming up just short against the league leaders.
“I think we’ve rattled Hearts in our last two games against them, so it’s really annoying again not to take anything from it,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep that level of performance going every week now and, if we can do that, I have no doubt we’ll stay up.
“We’ve now played all our matches against Hearts so we now need to focus on our bread and butter games.”