A stunning last-minute header from Franck Dja Djedje helped Hibs open up a five-point gap on Rangers in the race for second place in the Championship.
The Easter Road side had looked like paying the price for failing to make their first-half dominance count when Livingston striker Ibra Sekajja prodded the ball home just two minutes from time, a goal which looked like earning the basement outfit a precious point.
But Dja Djedje, one of the smallest players on the park, left Mark Burchill’s players on their knees as he rose above everyone to glance Lewis Stevenson’s cross in off the post.
Until that sensational ending it had looked as if Jason Cummings’ 14th goal of the season was going to be enough to give Hibs victory, the teenager racing onto skipper Liam Craig’s superb through ball to round goalkeeper Darren Jamieson before rolling the ball into the empty net.
Thereafter Hibs created – and scorned – enough chances to have themselves out of sight long before the half-time whistle only to have Dja Djedje’s header to thank for winning all three points when it looked as if two had been thrown away.
Hibs manager Alan Stubbs made four changes to the side which had disposed of Berwick Rangers, rotating his squad with David Gray and Dominique Malonga having both picked up knocks in that Scottish Cup victory.
Gray dropped out altogether while Malonga took a seat on the bench where he was joined by Scott Allan and Dylan McGeouch with Keith Watson, Martin Boyle, Liam Craig and Franck Dja Djedje all drafted into the starting line-up while Livingston handed debuts to Darren Cole and Scott Pittman.
The bookies had made Hibs overwhelming favourites to add to the woes of the Championship’s basement outfit and in the early stages those odds looked well justified, the change in personnel and formation seemingly having no effect on the home side. While they knocked the ball around in style, moving it from flank to flank Livingston struggled to retain any quality possession, the upshot being they found themselves playing much of the game deep inside their own half. Declan Gallagher could count himself lucky when dispossessed by Dja Djedje as he attempted to shepherd Liam Fontaine’s long ball over the bye-line, the Hibs forward cutting the ball back for his fellow striker Cummings who scuffed his shot. Cummings’ next effort carried much more power but was shovelled aside, somewhat unconvincingly by Darren Jamieson, the keeper then in the right place at his left-hand post to block Boyle’s volley from Lewis Stevenson’s deep cross with his legs.
Livingston boss Burchill would have been happy to see the first 25 minutes come and go with his side still on level terms, the visiting players growing in confidence due to that fact and there was a nervous moment when Hibs goalkeeper Mark Oxley’s punched clearance from Keaghan Jacob’s free-kick fell at the feet of Pittman 30 yards out.
Oxley appeared to be impeded as he attempted to get back on his feet as the midfielder lofted the ball forward, it appeared to be inching wide but Paul Hanlon was taking no chances, the defender heading the ball behind for the first of three corners in quick succession for the West Lothian club.
Cummings passed up a great chance for the opener, failing to capitalise on a poor clearance from Craig Sives but the youngster made no mistake on the half-hour mark, latching onto Liam Craig’s superb through ball to race clear and round Jamieson before sliding home.
And he almost made it two three minutes later when Jamieson beat Boyle’s angled shot out, but on this occasion Callum Fordyce was on the line to salvage the situation.
Chances galore were beginning to fall for Hibs with the pace of Boyle causing Livingston many a headache, a great last-ditch tackle by Jason Talbot on the winger preventing a second goal before the on-loan Dundee man twice flashed low crosses across the face of goal which, much to his evident frustration, found no takers.
The disappointment for Stubbs as referee Stephen Finnie’s whistle brought the first half to a close would have been that Hibs, for all their domination, had only that solitary goal to show for their efforts. And as long as that remained the case Livingston had hope, Pittman demonstrating the fragility of that situation as he found space deep inside the Hibs penalty area only for his effort to be deflected into the air by Fontaine before Hanlon’s header cleared the danger.
Opportunities to add to their lead had become rather more scarce as far as Hibs were concerned but Watson’s long ball forward almost put Cummings in, his run matched by Darren Cole, referee Finnie having no interest in the Easter Road kid’s claims for a penalty as he was sent sprawling.
It had become a bit cat-and-mouse with Hibs patiently playing the ball around in an attempt to prise Livingston open with little success although Boyle gave Cummings the chance to do so, the youngster taking his pass and stepping inside Cole only to blast high over the bar from 18 yards.
It was to be Cummings’ last involvement, replaced by McGeouch for the final 20 minutes as Boyle was thrust through the centre alongside Dja Djedje, a move which almost paid instant dividends as he again broke free to deliver a cross which his team-mate couldn’t reach.
A rare mistake by Hanlon, allowing the ball to run under his foot, almost allowed Livingston substitute Danny Mullen in but the defender retrieved the situation with the home fans becoming increasingly frustrated with what had been a rather insipid second-half display from Hibs.
In stark contrast to the opening 45 minutes Jamieson had found himself with little to do but he was almost surprised by a low free-kick from Hibs skipper Craig which he managed to grab at the second attempt.
Having already thrown on Mullen and Myles Hippolyte, Burchill went for broke in the final eight minutes, bringing on ex-Hearts striker Gary Glen in a bid to avert a fifth successive defeat. And it almost paid off as Sekajja appeared to have earned his side a draw only for Dja Djedje to come up trumps for Hibs.
Hibs (3-5-2): Oxley; Watson, Hanlon, Fontaine; Boyle, Fyvie, Robertson, Craig (Stanton 80), Stevenson; Cummings (McGeouch 70), Dja Djedje.
Substitutes not used: Perntreou, Forster, Handling, S Allan, Malonga.
Livingston (4-4-1-1): Jamieson; Fordyce (Glen 82), Gallagher, Sives, Talbot; McKenna (Hippolyte 76), Ky Jacobs, Cole, Ke Jacobs; Pittman (Mullen 70); Sekajja.
Substitutes not used: Walker, O’Brien, Praprotnik, Beaumont.
Referee: Stephen Finnie.