LIVINGSTON gave their hopes of avoiding relegation a tremendous boost after surviving one of the most dramatic football finales in recent memory.
The away side looked absolutely certain to bag three points when Sam Stanton fired into the far corner to double Livingston’s advantage with only a minute of normal time remaining.
With Falkirk fans streaming for the exits, Will Vaulks gave them a glimmer of hope with a back post header. Even then, with so little time on the clock, it looked nothing more than a late consolation, something to multiply frustration among the Falkirk ranks after they’ve failed to breakthrough in the previous 90 minutes.
Instead, from the very next attack, Myles Hippolyte floated a ball over the top for fellow substitute Lee Miller to run through. The striker was hauled to the deck by Jackson Longridge inside the penalty area and referee Nick Walsh pointed to the spot. Longridge saw red for the foul as many a Livingston player lay prone on the deck, paralysed with incredulity that they’ve somehow thrown away a vital three points in such a manner.
However, there was still the small matter of the penalty kick. John Baird stepped up, having not missed this season, opted for power over accuracy and saw his effort saved by Marc McCallum in the Livingston goal. Once the ball was finally cleared from the penalty area the referee blew for the full-time whistle.
“I’ll never go through three minutes like that again in my life,” said McCallum. “The first goal is one of those things I’ve got to do better with, but once it went in I thought it was full-time because there were people leaving. Then they kicked-off and all of a sudden - long ball, penalty, red card. It was just mental.
“I knew what he was doing. I was on the internet, looking at John Baird penalties from 2005. I could tell by his run up that he was smashing it down the middle. I’ve never had a feeling like that as a professional.”
The result pulls Livingston to within two points of Dumbarton in eighth place, while Falkirk remain six points clear of Hibs in second, but have now played three games more than their promotion rivals.
The high drama of the closing exchanges was in complete contrast to the rest of the match: a drab, dull affair played at a slow tempo in cold March weather. Livingston rode through an early Falkirk storm as the hosts could have opened the scoring twice in the opening 10 minutes. Baird’s close range shot was blocked by Darren Cole before Ben Gordon cleared Bob McHugh’s deflected effort off the line.
Scott Pitman saw a sliding effort from inside the area repelled by replacement goalkeeper Deniz Dogan Mehmet - the English national of Turkish heritage was filling in for Danny Rogers, who was away on international duty - before Falkirk went close again through long-range efforts from Aaron Muirhead and Vaulks.
Once more, after the opening exchanges, Livingston kept Falkirk at arm’s length for the majority of the second half. Baird past up two chances at the back post in quick succession, but the hosts didn’t get a clean sight at goal again until after Livingston were 2-0 up. Jordan White opened the scoring after being picked out by Liam Buchanan’s cross.
Pitman and White each came close to adding to the advantage before Stanton found the bottom corner from the edge of the area, setting up an unforgettable finish.