For anyone witnessing the triumphant Livingston players leave the Central Park field to rapturous applause from their 400 jubilant supporters on Saturday, it was easy to forget that they still languish three points adrift of Alloa at the foot of the Championship.
Yet that stat alone doesn’t tell the full story. Livi are buoyed by the knowledge that they have games in hand over both of their rivals: one over Alloa and two over second-bottom Cowden, who are five ahead of them. And, crucially, the West Lothian side, who have comfortably the best goal difference of the three, have genuine momentum for the first time in this gruelling season.
Their victory in Fife made it three in a row for the first time in four years. In that sequence, sparked by the Petrofac Training Cup final demolition of Alloa nine days ago, they have beaten the two teams they are battling against for survival.
Until last Sunday, this turn of events had been hard to envisage for anyone outwith the Livingston camp. A month ago, they looked dead and buried after a last-gasp defeat away to Hibs left them six points adrift at the bottom with no games in hand and no form to call on.
Yet bullish boss Mark Burchill has instilled a fight and desire to beat the drop that has never wavered despite the regular setbacks they have endured on and off the park this season. Burchill has said all along that Livi will stay up and it looks like he might just be vindicated.
Livingston’s spirit was there for all to see as they roared back from a goal down to beat Cowdenbeath after Jordan White’s double capped a dominant second-half display.
“We’ve always had belief and quality but we’ve been unlucky with a lot of circumstances not going our way,” defender Callum Fordyce told the Evening News. “The cup win has given us a real boost of confidence.”
Livingston were unfortunate to find themselves having to come from behind. After 39 minutes, with the match goalless and the visitors marginally on top, referee Crawford Allan awarded a penalty to Livi when Danny Mullen fell under a challenge from Cowden defender John Armstrong. However, after consulting his linesman, Allan changed his mind and awarded a free-kick to the hosts. Burchill revealed afterwards that the ref apologised to him and admitted he should have stuck with his original decision, with the manager joking that he would have thrown himself off the roof of the stadium if it had proved a costly mistake. It almost did.
Two minutes after the break, defender Nat Wedderburn blasted the hosts into the lead. At that point Livi were staring at the drop to League 1. But, backed by a vocal away support, they refused to throw in the towel and instead went on to dominate the rest of the match. From the moment White nodded in a 64th minute equaliser from Myles Hippolyte’s cross, the fired-up visitors had the bit between their teeth. Again it was White, the two-goal hero in the cup final, who produced the goods as he drilled home an 80th-minute winner from close range to take his tally for the season to 15 in all competitions. “Even when we fell behind, we knew we could come back,” said Fordyce. “The fans were brilliant. As soon as we got the first goal, they were right behind us and Cowdenbeath couldn’t get out of their half in the last half hour.”
For all the buoyancy in the Livingston camp, their winning streak will be tested to the full in their next two games, at home to Rangers this Wednesday and Hibs a week later. Not that the Lions are daunted. Burchill said after Saturday’s game that he wants four wins from his side’s last four matches and Fordyce sees no reason why they can’t take points off two sides battling for second place.
“We had them back-to-back away last month and produced great performances against them. We were unlucky not to get a draw at Hibs and then we got a draw at Rangers, so we know that if we perform we can cause them both problems. These games are both at home as well which should help us. I saw Queen of the South against Rangers on Thursday and they showed what can happen if you have a bit of confidence.”
Even if Livi lose to both Rangers and Hibs, they are far from doomed. They would still have two games left against Raith Rovers and Queen of the South, while one of Cowden’s two remaining games is against Hearts and one of Alloa’s three games is against Hibs. Alloa also face Cowden on the last day, so points are guaranteed to be spilled. “I think this would be one of the biggest achievements in the club’s history if we could win the Petrofac Cup then stay up after everything we’ve been through,” said Fordyce. “A lot of people wrote us off but we always believed we could do it.”
Cowdenbeath: Thomson, O’Brien, Armstrong, Wedderburn, Robertson, Nish (Buchanan 71), Higgins (Kane 62), Brownlie, Oyenuga, Marshall (Adamson 83), Toshney. Subs not used: Miller, Hughes, Johnston, Sneddon.
Livingston: Jamieson, Talbot, Cole, Fordyce, Kyle Jacobs, Keaghan Jacobs, Hippolyte (Boulding 77), Gallagher, White, Mullen (Donaldson 90), Pittman (Glen 77). Subs not used: O’Brien, Beaumont, Sekajja, Walker.
Ref: Crawford Allan