HEARTS brought themselves into European qualification contention with an improbable victory away from home as they edged closer to fourth-placed Aberdeen.
Livingston 1, Hearts 2; January 25, 2005
Woefully lacking a cutting edge up front, they looked down and out after Derek Lilley had given Livingston the lead but then two goals in three minutes – from Paul Hartley, direct from a free kick, and Lee Miller, with a close-range header – turned the game on its head.
John Robertson’s bid to emulate Craig Levein and take his club to third spot had already been hit by the loss of Mark de Vries and Alan Maybury to Leicester City, and it appeared likely that Hartley would also be on his way out, with Celtic the interested party.
However, Hartley lead the fightback just as his team looked to be running out of steam. Craig Gordon also deserved credit as Hearts would have gone 2-0 down with eight minutes to play but for the goalkeeper’s acrobatic save from Craig Easton.
Lee Miller looked a touch out of sorts upfront for the visitors, and Dennis Wyness, his striking colleague in a 4-4-2 formation, wasn’t convincing as an out-and-out frontman.
That much was illustrated in the 32nd minute, when the former Inverness player was inches away from making a connection which might well have opened the scoring. A throw-in from Robbie Neilson was headed on strongly towards goal by Andy Webster, and, with Roddy McKenzie struggling to cover it, the slightest change of direction could have sent the ball into the net.
It was a difficult chance, but one which those who have the natural predatory instinct of the striker tend to take.
Five minutes after the restart, a woeful mis-hit over the bar by Stephen Simmons suggested that the second half might be just as bad. With the game still scoreless the break might have been too early for alterations in personnel, but there was no reason for both sides not to reform their approach to the game.
Andy Webster became the first player to be booked after fouling Derek Lilley, and Gus Bahoken soon followed for an offence against Miller. If nothing else, those incidents were proof that the game was being more keenly contested.
Robertson introduced both the Lithuanian, Saulius Mikoliunas, and the young Icelander, Halmar Thorarinsson, for their debuts. The double swap galvanised Hearts momentarily, but Livingston who broke the deadlock at last. A dink through by O’Brien was handled by Jamie McAllister, but a good advantage allowed Lilley to nip in and nick the ball past Gordon.
Just as Livingston looked to have done enough to secure victory, Hearts struck twice in quick succession.
First Hartley scored direct from a free-kick given after he had been fouled by Easton, and then Miller rose to nod in a Hamill cross.