How Hibs passed Livingston test with flying colours and paid perfect tribute to Ron Gordon
Lee Johnson wanted his Hibs players to be warriors against Livingston as the best way of paying tribute to Ron Gordon, and he got exactly that as his side shook off the loss of an early goal to post a convincing win in the race for Europe.
Familiar groans were heard from the sizeable Hibs support, numbering around 3,500, when Joel Nouble shook off the attentions of the visiting defence far too easily to rifle the opener in off the underside of the crossbar with fewer than ten minutes on the clock.
But Hibs showed a side fans haven’t seen much of this season as they bounced back, equalising just before the half-hour mark when Élie Youan sprung the Livingston offside trap to latch onto Will Fish’s ball over the top before drawing Shamal George from his goal-line and slotting into the corner. The home players and supporters were incensed at what they felt was a clear offside, with VAR double-checking the decision, but Youan had spun off Nicky Devlin and was clearly onside when the ball was played.
The same player scored his and Hibs’ second nine minutes later, exchanging passes with Matthew Hoppe before his scuffed effort trundled just inside the far post and with an hour played started a brisk counter-attack, spiralling the ball out to the right for the galloping Chris Cadden, who found the net via the foot of Stéphane Oméonga.
There was a time when the Frenchman flattered to deceive. He was over-elaborate, bordering on ponderous, wanting an extra step-over or to beat one more opposition player. Most frustrating of all was what he could do when he cut to the chase. Livingston, you suspect, may be sick of the sight of the French forward. Two assists on Christmas Eve, two goals and a big hand in the third goal. He was a constant handful for the home defence, despite being moved out to the flank to accommodate Hoppe up top.
Youan brought out his signature ‘sleeping’ celebration for both his strikes but you can’t imagine the Livingston defence getting too much shut-eye after chasing him around the Tony Macaroni Arena all afternoon.
There are several factors in Hibs turning their form around in 2023 – players moved on during the January transfer window, new arrivals, but players like Youan, and Kevin Nisbet, and Josh Campbell finding another level has also contributed. Hibs are now seven games unbeaten, the latest result a convincing win at a place that has never been the happiest of hunting grounds. Their performance was aided by the red card shown to Jack Fitzwater for tripping Hoppe on his way through to goal but regardless, this was a slick and professional job by a Hibs side that you feel still has more to give.
Livingston threatened on occasion but after Nouble’s opener they were meek and toothless in attack. Johnson threw on Kevin Nisbet and Mykola Kukharevych for the final 25 minutes and the Ukrainian forward nabbed a late fourth to put the gloss on the final result, with Livi boss Davie Martindale sent off in the aftermath.
Hibs will face bigger tests in the coming days, first against Rangers on Wednesday night and then Celtic a week on Saturday but this was an ideal way to start a tough period – and the perfect way to remember Ron Gordon.