Hearts face up to their 15-year wait for a top-flight win against Livingston
When Hearts last beat Livingston in Scotland’s top flight, Robbie Neilson was their right-back, Graham Rix their manager and John Robertson stood in the opposite dugout. It has been a long 15 years.
A decade and a half has lapsed since the Edinburgh club took three Premiership points from local rivals just along the M8. They face up to that record this weekend when Livingston visit Tynecastle Park.
On March 5, 2006, a Hearts team containing Takis Fyssas, Rudi Skacel and a certain Craig Gordon secured a 3-2 victory in West Lothian to maintain their quest for a Champions League berth. Rix was in charge assisted by Jim Duffy at a time when Vladimir Romanov reigned supreme in Gorgie.
Some other names on the visitors’ teamsheet that day will evoke memories of that mental but nonetheless treasured campaign: Martin Petras, Mirsad Beslija, Chris Hackett, Lee Johnson. For then-Livingston manager Robertson, Robert Snodgrass and Graham Dorrans were promising youngsters, Derek Adams an experienced veteran.
The winning goal came from Roman Bednar three minutes from time after Bruno Aguiar and Edgaras Jankauskas had their efforts cancelled out by Richard Brittain and Dave Mackay respectively.
The intervening period has seen Hearts and Livingston engage in five top-flight battles: Four draws and a harrowing 5-0 mauling in West Lothian under Craig Levein don’t make pleasant reading for those of a maroon persuasion.
Proving people wrong
Livi, of course, spent much of the last 15 years in divisions below Hearts, while last season the Tynecastle side were the ones glancing upwards from the second tier. They eliminated Livingston in the League Cup in 2013, beat them four times in the Championship during season 2014/15, and again in the Scottish Cup in 2019.
However, the wait for a top-tier win has lingered far longer than anyone could have anticipated. There is no shortage of motivation at Riccarton to address the matter this weekend.
“These stats always come up now and again, so we need to make sure we win on Saturday to start a new run,” said manager Robbie Neilson. “It’s easier said than done. Livingston beat Celtic at home last week and their record against us shows we need to be at it to get anything from the game.
“Livi have consistently been a team people have said would be down the bottom of the league. They keep proving people wrong. I think they are a well-run club, very organised and a tough team to beat.
“David Martindale [Livingston manager] has taken the step up and done well. Last season they got to a cup final. I’m sure their main objective at the start of the season is to stay in the league and prove everyone wrong. They’ve managed to do that for a number of years now, so credit to them.
“We are right at the start of the season so teams are still trying to bed in. Until the transfer window shuts, you don’t really know what you’re going to be dealing with. This is probably when the league really starts because the window is closed.
“Livi had a great result against Celtic and I was at Ibrox watching them on Wednesday [in the Premier Sports Cup]. They played well for long periods so I expect them to come to Tynecastle, work really hard and make it difficult for us. If we get three points it will be a good result for us.”
Former Livingston defender Craig Halkett is partly responsible for the record having been a formidable member of the Almondvale back three until joining Hearts two years ago. “I didn’t know it had been that long,” he admitted.
“As a Hearts player, we want a positive result after the start we’ve had. We want to beat everyone who comes to Tynecastle and Livingston is no different.
“I’ve only played against them once before. I was out injured and then we missed some fixtures because of Covid. I had a really good time at Livingston and I think really highly of the club so it will be an emotional day but I’m looking forward to it.
“I played one season with Livi in the Premiership and we were written off before a ball was kicked. Everyone said we had no chance after getting back-to-back promotions, but everybody there feeds off that. You want to prove everybody wrong. Now everyone is starting to realise they are a Premiership club and they’re here to stay.”
Before the challenge of overcoming Martindale’s team, Neilson must first confront the tricky task of selecting his own starting XI. With everyone fit and competing for places, it is an awkward assignment.
“So many players are pushing for a start,” he said. “Cammy Devlin came on for his debut last week [at Ross County] and did really well, I thought Jamie Walker came on and did also did well, Aaron McEneff has been training well, there’s Andy Halliday, Peter Haring.
“All these guys were sitting on the bench last week chomping at the bit. It’s now a case of utilising the squad. That’s what keeps driving everybody forward. If you are in the team, you need to earn the right to stay in the team.
“We didn’t have this size of squad last season and didn’t have the same quality. If you had a few good games and then a bad one, you would stay in the team. Now it’s about making sure you are performing every week.”