Livingston boss Mark Burchill believes his side were beaten on Saturday by this season’s Scottish Championship league winners.
Livi succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Robbie Neilson’s Hearts – James Keatings’ 25th minute strike at the Energy Assets Arena keeping the Lions six points behind second-bottom side Alloa Athletic and seven adrift of Cowdenbeath who are hovering just above the relegation play-off spot in eighth.
But Burchill, a former Jambo himself, was forthcoming in his appreciation for the Tynecastle outfit who are now 15 points clear of nearest rivals Rangers after the Ibrox men were comprehensively dismantled by an impressive Hibs side in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off.
And, having now reached the halfway mark in the second tier this season, Burchill is convinced the Championship trophy will be heading to Gorgie come May.
He said: “I watched them in pre-season and I’ve said it all along that undoubtedly they are going to win the league, make no mistake about it. They are the best team, they’ve got the best manager and, for me, they’ve got the best tactics. I can’t see anyone catching them.
“You’ve got to ride your luck against Hearts as they’re a very good team – they are a top-six Premiership side all day long.”
The gulf in class was palpable between the league’s top and bottom sides for the vast majority of the first half with Livi No.1 Darren Jamieson called into action on more than one occasion, not least when denying goalscorer Keatings from the spot after Kyle Jacobs was adjudged to have caught Jason Holt with a trailing leg.
However, the home side were a different proposition for the league leaders after the interval and carried a greater threat in the final third with Jordan White, Danny Mullen and Declan Gallagher all testing Neil Alexander in the visitors’ goal.
“I turned to the dugout with about 20 minutes gone into the second half and we were saying that if you had just walked in would you have known who was top and who was bottom?” Burchill added. “The second half was very encouraging. I had to make a change after the first half with personnel as we didn’t really get to grips with Hearts starting the better because we struggled to get close to them as they passed it about really well.
“But I felt we got ourselves back into it after half-time and the only thing missing was a goal. DJ had a couple of good saves but I think we were there or there abouts.”
Despite Burchill’s tenure as a manager beginning with two defeats, his first match in charge a 2-0 reversal at Ibrox last weekend, the 34-year-old is embracing the challenge he has been tasked with of preserving the Lions’ Championship status.
“I’ve loved every second of it so far,” Burchill said with a smile. “The really encouraging thing is the players are taking on what I am saying in training and putting it into the games.
“I’m not changing everything but you want to put your own stamp on the team.
“I just want them to play with a bit more freedom and go and express themselves. I’ve been in charge for two games now and it has been very encouraging the two performances the boys have put on for me.
“They’re starting to take on the things that we’re doing in training so if we keep on working hard and doing the right things then I’m sure it will turn.”
Jamieson himself echoed his manager’s comments about the Gorgie outfit’s superiority.
The self-confessed Hibs fan said: “You can see they’re a great side. They’re missing their two strikers [Osman] Sow and [Soufian] El Hassnaoui who when we played against them last time [Hearts won 5-0 in September], their movement was different class. So if that’s them missing a couple of key players then they are looking likely champions.
“It’s been similar to what John [McGlynn] was doing. Training has been a wee bit sharper but I think that’s just down to the manager’s enthusiasm. But we’ve not got any points yet so it’s a case of trying to get a goal and take it from there.”