Hearts 0 Livingston 0: Leaders frustrated as Steven Naismith misses penalty

Steven Naismith saw his first-half penalty saved.
Steven Naismith saw his first-half penalty saved.
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Steven Naismith missed a first-half penalty as Hearts’ perfect start to the Premiership campaign came to an end.

The leaders, who had won all five of their previous league matches, endured a frustrating afternoon against a Livingston side who restricted them to few clear chances and were well deserving of their point.

Craig Levein’s side are still five points clear of both Livingston and Hibs at the top of the table, but Celtic will have a chance to cut the gap to three points if they win at Kilmarnock tomorrow.

Manager Levein returned to the dugout for the first time since his health scare last month and he made three changes to the side that started the 1-0 victory at Motherwell a week previously, with Arnaud Djoum and Callumn Morrison dropping to the bench and Uche Ikpeazu missing out through injury. Steven MacLean, Ben Garuccio and recent signing Craig Wighton came into the starting XI. The return of Garuccio to left-back meant Demetri Mitchell, who had played there at Fir Park, was switched to right midfield in a 4-4-2 formation. Former Hearts player Scott Robinson, predominantly a midfielder in his time at Tynecastle, started up front for Livingston in a 3-5-2.

The visitors started brightly and had the first notable effort of the match when striker Dolly Menga saw a low strike from 25 yards out tipped behind by Zdenek Zlamal.

Hearts went close to an opener two minutes later, however, when Jimmy Dunne headed Olly Lee’s free-kick delivery against the crossbar after Mitchell had been fouled while trying to cut in from the right.

Livingston threatened in the 22nd minute when Robinson slipped a pass through to strike partner Menga wide on the left but the Angolan’s low angled shot from just inside the box ran just wide of the far post.

At the other end, Scott Pittman had to stand firm to head Mitchell’s ferocious half volley over the bar after Lee’s corner had broken to the on-loan Manchester United player on the edge of the box.

Hearts spurned a glorious chance to take the lead right on the stroke of half-time when Naismith saw his penalty saved by Liam Kelly after MacLean had been brought down by the goalkeeper as he tried to go round him in the box.

Having failed to generate any rhythm in the first half, Hearts made a change just six minutes into the second half as Morrison was sent on in place of Garuccio, with Mitchell reverting to left-back.

The hosts had a big let-off in the 55th minute when Menga sent Pittman clean through on goal but Zlamal stood up to make an excellent save just as the midfielder looked set to give the visitors the lead.

Hearts went agonisingly close to an opener two minutes later when Morrison whipped in a dangerous ball from the right but Wighton was unable to get enough on his glancing header to guide it inside Kelly’s right-hand post.

The hosts enjoyed the bulk of the pressure in the closing stages, and MacLean hit the bar during a goalmouth scramble in the last minute, but otherwise Hearts rarely looked like getting the goal that would have preserved their flawless start.

Hearts (4-4-2): Zlamal, Smith, Dunne, Souttar, Garuccio (Morrison 51), Mitchell, Lee (Mulraney 80), Haring, Naismith, Wighton (Djoum 65), MacLean. Subs: Doyle Bozanic, McDonald, Dikamona. Booked: Naismith.

Livingston (3-5-2): Kelly, Gallagher, Halkett, Lithgow, Lawless (Cadden 71), Byrne, Jacobs, Pittman, Lamie, Robinson (McMillan 62), Menga (Hamilton 79). Subs: Stewart, Kaja, Saunders, Lawson. Booked: Robinson, Menga.

Ref: Don Robertson

Att: 17,798