Livingston moved another point closer to second-bottom Alloa after a battling 1-1 Championship draw with promotion hopefuls Rangers.
The Lions have produced their best run of the season just when it matters having gone into last night’s clash three games unbeaten, a Petrofac Training Cup Final victory over Alloa followed up by wins in the league against both Falkirk and Cowdenbeath. Bottom-placed Livi are now just two points adrift of the Wasps with three fixtures remaining.
After a fairly high-tempo opening, a poor decision from referee Greg Aitken saw Myles Hippolyte’s effort ruled out after seven minutes.
Captain Jason Talbot’s searching cross into the visitors’ six-yard box tempted striker Jordan White into an aerial tussle with Rangers No.1 Cammy Bell.
The Livi frontman was perfectly within his right to challenge the former Kilmarnock stopper but was adjudged to have fouled Bell, who dropped the ball into the path of Hippolyte and he stuck it away with ease only for the whistler to chop the goal off for an infringement.
The visitors enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in their opponents’ half but Livi carried a threat of their own in the final third with Hippolyte and Scott Pittman looking lively as they put pressure on a hesitant Marius Zaliukas at the heart of the Rangers defence.
A blatant elbow by Haris Vuckic on Talbot somehow then went unpunished by Aitken shortly after the half-hour mark, the Newcastle United loanee not even receiving a caution for his actions off the ball.
Kenny Miller wasted Rangers’ best opportunity of the opening 45 when he found a yard of space in the Livi penalty area but blasted over the bar as the visiting fans became increasingly restless as the first half drew to a close.
However, a moment of magic arrived just two minutes after the restart as Hippolyte gave the home side the lead.
White was sandwiched between two Rangers defenders and, from the resulting free-kick 25 yards from goal, 20-year-old Hippolyte curled an audacious free-kick around the visitors’ wall and away from the diving Bell into the far corner.
However, Zaliukas’ header restored parity just two minutes later from another set-play.
The former Hearts captain’s goal appeared to spark Stuart McCall’s men into life as Vuckic then struck a post from a Dean Shiels cross just five minutes after the Lithuanian’s equaliser.
With Livi and Rangers battling for different reasons in the Championship, there was a real sense of urgency from both sets of players to move forward in search of that elusive second goal.
Pittman went down under a challenge from Zaliukas in the penalty area after a surging run from defender Declan Gallagher, but referee Aitken waved play on despite the pleas.
A section of the Rangers support seemed more interested in setting smoke bombs off than trying to cheer their team on in their battle with Hibs and Queen of the South for this league’s runners-up spot.
A double change by McCall signalled his side’s intentions with Kris Boyd and Ryan Hardie replacing the below-par Miller and Nicky Clark respectively.
But it was the hosts who looked the hungrier for the three points with a White header landing on top of Bell’s net.
Vuckic was then rightly cautioned on the stroke of full-time for trying to earn his side a penalty by diving as both sides were forced to settle for a share of the spoils.
Livi boss Mark Burchill was disappointed not to claim all three points.
He said: “When you go ahead in a game, you’re always looking to hold that lead so I was so disappointed to lose the goal so quickly. I think if we’d held on for that bit longer then Rangers would have run out of ideas. We matched them and, if I am being honest, deep down I’m disappointed but it’s a good point as we’re two closer to Alloa.”
Livingston: Jamieson, Talbot, Cole, Fordyce, Gallagher, Kyle Jacobs, Keaghan Jacobs, O’Brien, Hippolyte (Glen 81), White (Boulding 89), Pittman (Mullen 86). Subs: Walker, Donaldson, Beaumont, Sekajja.
Rangers: Bell, Wallace, McCulloch, Law, Vuckic, Clark (Hardie 73), Miller (Boyd 73), Shiels (Walsh 80), McGregor, Zaliukas, Murdoch. Subs: Robinson, Mohsni, Black, Crawford.
Referee: Greg Aitken.