Paul Heckingbottom praised Hibs for grinding down Livingston as they climbed up to fifth in the Premiership with a hard fought 2-1 win at the Tony Macaroni Arena.
Goals from Paul Hanlon and Stevie Mallan in the last 20 minutes earned the on-form Easter Road side a fifth victory in six league matches under the Yorkshireman as they took another significant step towards securing their top-six place.
Hibs are now above Hearts for the first time this season, although the Tynecastle side have the chance to go back ahead of their city rivals when they host Aberdeen today.
Heckingbottom was delighted with the way his team found a way to win on an evening when Livingston, who boast the strongest home record in the league outwith Celtic and Rangers, nullified them for long periods. “It was all about the points, but it was really hard work,” said the head coach. “It was probably hard work watching it as well. You’ve got to give Livingston credit.
“They did their homework and they showed exactly why they’ve been a real tough nut to crack, especially at home.
“They quickly stopped us playing forward. They gave us one pass and then after that they pressed any forward pass we made.
“We couldn’t get the tempo going and we couldn’t break them down. We had to change the tempo somehow so we played the ball forward earlier in the second half. We wanted more tackles and more headers in the game. We wanted it to get scrappier because that was the only way we were going to change the tempo of the game. It wasn’t something we planned to do, or wanted to do, but we had to do it because Livingston did a job on us. Credit to our lads, they showed a real will to win.”
Hibs’ opening goal came in the 71st minute, just three minutes after Vykintas Slivka and Fraser Murray had been sent on in place of Stephane Omeonga and Daryl Horgan. Both substitutes were involved in the move which led to the corner from which Hanlon broke the deadlock.
“The subs did great,” said Heckingbottom. “That’s been a trend in most games since I’ve been here. It’s not usually as instant an impact as that. We’ve had players coming on when we’ve been winning already to help us see games out and we’ve had players coming on like tonight to help change the game. Everyone who’s been on the pitch so far has done well for us.”
Mallan set up the opener and then scored a sublime second goal before Ryan Hardie’s stoppage-time penalty made for a nervy finale. Heckingbottom praised the former St Mirren and Barnsley midfielder’s match-winning contribution as well as his willingness to get involved in the dirty work on a night when Hibs had to scrap for their victory.
“That’s what he’s got in his locker,” said Heckingbottom. “But what I also want is that energy he displays to get around the pitch.
“He has to contribute like everyone else, win tackles, win headers, compete, and we know he’s also got that quality in the final third.
“I was pleased with his performance. He’s had a couple of good games in a row now.”