Hibs scraped into the semi-finals of the Betfred Cup after being given a huge fright by Championship outfit Livingston, who twice took the lead at Easter Road.
An Anthony Stokes penalty seven minutes from time sent the Capital side to Hampden for the fifth time in just 18 months, but the cheers on the final whistle were more in relief than glory, the home fans having been forced to live on their nerves for much of the game,
After a bright start from Hibs, Livingston stunned Neil Lennon’s players by taking the lead, ex-Hearts youth defender Alan Lithgow rising to glance home a superb header from Raffaele De Vita’s free-kick.
Danny Swanson’s first goal in a green-and-white shirt hauled Hibs level, only for De Vita to fire Livingston ahead. Again their lead was short-lived, man-of-the-match Martin Boyle drilling home a second equaliser.
And with extra-time looming, Hibs made their pressure tell, although they needed a helping hand from on-loan Hearts player Nikolay Todorov, the Bulgarian needlessly bundling Paul Hanlon over inside his own penalty area, leaving Stokes to convert from the spot and win the five-goal thriller.
Lennon’s response to the unacceptable half-hour he had witnessed as his side surrendered a two goal lead against Motherwell at the weekend was to make four changes to the starting line-up.
Both goalkeeper Ofir Marciano and Steven Whittaker, who were held responsible for the first of Louis Moult’s double, dropped to the bench, as did striker Simon Murray, top scorer but without a goal in his last four matches, and on-loan Manchester City kid Brandon Barker.
Drafted in to replace them were Ross Laidlaw for his first start of the season, Lewis Stevenson – after three games watching from the sidelines – midfielder Vykintas Slivka and Swanson.
Perhaps surprisingly following their 3-1 away win over Inverness Caley in the Championship on Saturday, Livingston boss David Hopkin made five changes. Out went Scott Robinson, Jackson Longridge, Josdh Mullin, Dylan Mackin and Danny Mullen. In came Nicky Cadden, Keaghan Jacobs, Matthew Knox, Dale Carrick and De Vita.
Lennon’s players certainly looked determined to make amends for the performance which had provoked such withering criticism from their manager, Stokes rising to meet David Gray’s cross only to see Neil Alexander get down well at his near post before the goalkeeper managed to bat away a powerful effort from Martin Boyle.
But that vulnerability the Easter Road outfit have shown at set pieces was exposed yet again as Livingston stunned the home fans into silence by taking the lead, Lithgow getting up to send a superb glancing header from De Vita’s free-kick high into the net beyond the clawing left hand of goalkeeper Laidlaw.
Hibs were dealt a further blow when skipper Gray limped off after only 13 minutes to be replaced by Whittaker, the right back having presumably injured himself stretching a few moments earlier for a Lewis Stevenson cross.
Stokes, as he had done for his second goal against Motherwell, reacted quickest to nick the ball off the toe of De Vita. But again Alexander, one of four in the Livingston line-up with a Hearts connection, brought off a great save, throwing himself to his right to push his shot aside.
The Capital side may have been thinking it was going to be one of those nights, but they got themselves level in the 18th minute, Whittaker finding the run of Boyle who cut the ball back for Swanson to guide high into the net with his right boot from 18 yards out.
Their relief, though, was short-lived, Efe Ambrose getting his head to Nicky Cadden’s cross as he went for it with Scott Pittman who was first to recover, quickly knocking the loose ball forward for De Vita who wasted no time in hammering in a shot off the underside of the bar with Laidlaw again helpless.
However, Livingston had no time to enjoy having taken the lead for a second time, Boyle hauling Hibs level again as he drilled a low shot across Alexander and into the far side of his net.
It had been a breathtaking opening 30 minutes or so with plenty for the fans to discuss during the interval although, one would imagine, Lennon wouldn’t have been overjoyed with what he had seen in terms of his side’s defending once again.
On the other hand, Hopkin would have been delighted with his team’s first half performance which had caused their Premiership hosts more than a few problems, their confidence having obviously grown with the realisation they were giving as good as they got.
Little had been seen of John McGinn during those opening 45 minutes but the midfielder cut onto his left foot to give Alexander his first test of the second half, the 39-year-old getting down to hold his low shot at his near post.
Hibs were continuing to enjoy the lion’s share of possession, but the home fans remained subdued as Lennon’s players struggled to make that advantage count as Hopkin threw on both Mullin and Danny Mullen to give his side extra energy for the closing stages.
Lennon made his own change, replacing Slivka with Dylan McGeouch as he sought to engineer a third goal for his side, Whittaker and Stokes both putting efforts wide.
Tempers were also beginning to fray, Stokes and Halkett spoken to by referee Bobby Madden, both sets of players well aware that as the minutes ticked away the next goal, should it come, could well prove to be the winner in what was the first League Cup meeting between these sides since Livingston defeated Hibs 2-0 to lift the trophy in 2004.
Livingston were having to rely more and more on trying to hit on the counter-attack as Hibs pressed forward, the Edinburgh side finally getting their reward when Todorov needlessly bundled Hanlon over inside his own penalty area.
The Bulgarian tried to plead his case, but Madden had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, leaving Stokes to step up and crack a low shot into the bottom right hand corner of Alexander’s net with the goalkeeper having gone the right way.
Hibs: Laidlaw; Gray (Whittaker 13), Ambrose, Hanlon, Stevenson; Bartley; Slivka (McGeouch 66), McGinn; Swanson (Barker); Boyle, Stokes. Subs not used: Marciano, Matulevicius, S Murray, Porteous.
Livingston: Alexander; Knox (Mullin 55), Halkett, Lithgow; Byrne; Todorov, Ke Jacobs (Mullen 62), Pittman, De Vita (Longridge 42), Cadden; Carrick. Subs not used: Maley, Mackin, Robinson, Brown.
Referee: B Madden