Hearts 1, Livingston 1: Stendel must inject pace and panache if he gets job
German still waiting to be confiirmed
Daniel Stendel faces a considerable task to get Hearts from depressing to gegenpressing. Livingston earned a deserved point at Tynecastle Park as the hosts narrowly avoided defeat with an 88th-minute equaliser, thus extending their dispiriting run to just one win in ten games.
The German manager-in-waiting did not attend but will be acutely aware that he is poised to take charge of a side needing some attacking aggression. Marvin Bartley, the former Hibs midfielder, scored the evening’s opening goal in the first half. Hearts substitute Steven MacLean levelled in the dying minutes to drag his club off the bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership, but many aspects of their performance flattered to deceive.
Livingston deserved credit for their defensive resilience and adept counter-attacking. Hearts are desperate for Stendel to arrive to instil his forward-thinking style of play. If a compensation dispute with Barnsley can be resolved quickly, they will want him in the dugout at Motherwell on Saturday but that looks unlikely. It is expected that Austin MacPhee’s will continue as interim manager into next week.
There was a late change to the Hearts starting line-up when Aaron Hickey suffered an injury during the pre-match warm-up. His place at left-back was taken by Jamie Brandon. Michael Smith, Jake Mulraney, Loic Damour and Sean Clare were also recalled. Zdenek Zlamal took over in goal as Joel Pereira paid the price for conceding 13 times in the last four outings.
Livingston hadn’t won since October but arrived in Gorgie claiming only one defeat in their previous five meetings with Hearts. They survived an early scare when the Tynecastle defender Craig Halkett headed Glenn Whelan’s corner wide despite being unmarked ten yards out.
Then came yet another injury for the hosts as striker Steven Naismith was forced off on 25 minutes. He hadn’t been moving too freely after being clattered in midfield by Bartley and had a brief discussion with MacPhee before trudging up the tunnel. MacLean was the replacement.
Mulraney was lively on the left flank and delivered several inviting crosses in the first half. His pace troubled Livingston’s deputy right-back, Keaghan Jacobs, although there were not enough attacking threats in maroon.
It was the visitors who struck first on 32 minutes. Lyndon Dykes’ long throw into the Hearts penalty box was headed by Christophe Berra - making his 200th league appearance - but a ricochet fell perfectly for Bartley, the Livingston captain, to volley home. The former Hibs midfielder had been taunted by home supporters and milked the opportunity to celebrate his first goal in Scotland and his first anywhere since 2014.
The Tynecastle natives were restless and there was audible booing and jeering at points through to the break. The mood altered little in the second period with the Hearts defence looking slightly disjointed at times. The popular forward Uche Ikpeazu was introduced in place of midfielder Damour as MacPhee pursued an equaliser by changing his 4-3-3- formation to 4-4-2.
Stendel would have been watching from afar and could not have missed Hearts struggle to break down their opponents. His priority when he begins work must be to inject some energy and panache into the first-team dressing room, for the Edinburgh club’s top-flight status is most definitely still at risk.
Ikpeazu’s glancing header from Whelan’s 69th-minute free-kick was held by the Livingston goalkeeper Matija Sarkic. Breaching the tight West Lothian rearguard continued to tax Hearts entering the final 15 minutes, with Sarkic beating away a 20-yard volley by Whelan. Substitute Ryotaro Meshino then saw a shot deflect into the side-netting.
Finally, two minutes before the end of regulation time, MacLean restored parity. Ikpeazu had two attempts on goal from a corner kick before the ball broke kindly for MacLean to blast beyond Sarkic. Remarkably, it was Hearts’ first top-flight goal against Livingston since 2006, however it was not enough to prevent further jeering from home fans at full-time.
Hearts (4-3-3): Zlamal; M Smith, Halkett, Berra, Brandon; Damour, Whelan, Walker (Meshino 76); Clare, Naismith (MacLean 25), Mulraney. Substitutes not used: Pereira, Dikamona, Irving, Wighton.
Livingston (4-2-3-1): Sarkic; Jacobs (Lawson 46), Lamie, Guthrie, Taylor-Sinclair; Bartley, Sibbald (Erskine 79); Robinson, Pittman, Lawless (O’Doffin 88); Dykes. Substitutes not used: Stewart, McMillan, Lithgow, Souda.