Hibs leapfrog city rivals with win over Livi - how they rated on dramatic day
On a day made for endurance, in a contest that few will remember with anything approaching fondness, Hibs found a way secure a result of potentially enormous significance. If no-one in the commercial department at Easter Road will be rushing to include footage from this away victory over lowly Livingston in any seasonal highlight reels, few will dispute the value of the result.
A deflected Martin Boyle goal just before the half hour mark, his seventh of the season, was enough to secure three points take Hibs above Hearts – oh, you’d better believe that matters - and into fourth place in the Scottish Premiership. Following their midweek loss to Celtic in Glasgow, the win also restores morale and momentum to a threadbare group still stretched by injuries.
With Lewis Miller out of the match day squad with a knock and Rocky Bushiri dropped to the bench, Montgomery went for the ultimate mix of youth and experience in his rejigged backline, 16-year-old right back Rory Whittaker and 33-year-old club captain Paul Hanlon slotting into the defence. If they got things right, of course, this game wouldn’t be about defending – but the attacking threat of players like Boyle, Dylan Vente, Jair Tavares and Elie Youan, all given starts as the visitors went all-out for goals.
That is most definitely NOT how the opening phases of this game, as Hibs found themselves penned in, pinned down and unable to muster anything like a sustained attack. Livingston played to their strengths, looked to isolate Whittaker against the wily James Penrice – and threatened to score from balls into the boxes on a couple of occasions.
Hibs needed to find some sort of respite. A flash of brilliance. A break of the ball. Or two. When Youan’s pass ricocheted into the path of Boyle inside the box to the left of goal, the Socceroos star need no second invitation to try his luck. If his right-footed effort was certainly on target, there’s no denying that it took a wicked deflection – is there any other kind in football? – on its way past Shamal George in the Livi goal.
Boyle’s seventh goal of the season, eighth if you include one for Australia, was against the run of play. But it prompted a change in momentum, as the away side suddenly began creating chances.
Tavares had a shot from a tight angle blocked, Hanlon couldn’t convert a free-kick delivery that went just too far beyond the far post to be considered a golden opportunity – and Vente pulled a shot wide after a superb through ball from Tavares. All of this before half-time.
True, Livingston had a strong-ish penalty appeal dismissed by VAR, Kurtis Guthrie looking as if he was clipped by Joe Newell. But it felt like the tide had turned.
And any home complaints about the Video Assistant Referee system would have been softened a little when an apparent second goal for Hibs, Vente nodding home from an inch, was disallowed following a three-minute check for offside. They do take their time with even the most clear and patently obvious decisions, don’t they?
David Marshall was put to the test as Livingston rallied in search of an equaliser, making two absolutely outstanding saves – his point-blank stop from Bruce Anderson even better than the full-stretch dive to thwart Sean Kelly. In freezing rain and with the ball skidding and sliding off the plastic surface, the veteran goalie brought a sense of calm amid the chaos.
Deep into injury time, there was more drama as Hanlon appeared destined to be pinged for a penalty by VAR, the ball having hit the skipper on the arm. But another lengthy check was rendered pointless by dint of an offside. The Premiership may not always be brilliant. But it’s never dull, is it?
How Hibs rated:
GK David Marshall 8/10
Absolutely outstanding again. In conditions guaranteed to give any goalie nightmares, he made big saves when it mattered.
RB Rory Whittaker 6/10
Third start for the 16-year-old, who was targeted for early pressure – but stood up to the test. Clearly exhausted when replaced late on.
CB Will Fish 6/10
A hard-won clean sheet will have been sweet reward for the close-quarters combat required to combat Livi’s direct tactics.
CB Paul Hanlon 7/10
Club captain, restored to the starting line-up, added composure to defence. Late handball? Doesn’t count if the guy is offside …
LB Jordan Obita 6/10
Tried to get forward and join attack but spent a lot of the game doing defensive duties.
W/CF Elie Youan 6/10
Full of running and threat. Involved in the goal and generally positive when he got the chance.
CM Dylan Levitt 6/10
Took until the second half to find space in chaotic midfield battle. Replaced by Jeggo with 20 to go.
CM Joe Newell 6/10
Put in his usual shift without getting many chances to shine on the ball. Still a key figure.
W Jair Tavares 7/10
An absolute terror on the left wing, drifting inside to cause chaos. Best outfielder on the park.
CF/W Martin Boyle 7/10
Scored his first goal since September. Constant threat whenever ball played in behind.
CF Dylan Vente 7/10
The thinking man’s No. 9 may have pulled his best chance wide and seen a ‘goal’ disallowed. But his movement was crucial.
SUB Jimmy Jeggo 5/10
Replaced Levitt after 69 minutes.
SUB Josh Campbell 5/10
Add right back to his list of roles, as he replaced Whittaker with 12 minutes remaining.
SUB Christian Doidge NA
Thrown on for final three minutes.