John Hughes already had one of the broadest grins in Scottish football, but last night his smile must have been just that little bit wider.
We’ve all missed him over these last 18 months or so since he left Easter Road and, goodness, he’s missed being actively involved in the game. What a comeback too – his new charges completely swept aside Raith Rovers yesterday with striker Mark McNulty bagging a hat-trick.
Asked how it felt to be back, Hughes was straight back into to his passionately-held beliefs about the game and what it means to him. “It was brilliant. I’m a fitba’ guy and in the dugout is where I belong,” he said. He was also quick to acknowledge John Collins’ role in bringing about one of the more surprising appointments in the Scottish game this season as the pair were put in place as director of football and manager respectively at Livingston last week. “As soon as John put his name to it I was on board,” he added.
In his programme notes, the newly-installed Livingston boss set out his manifesto which even a stoney-faced bystander would have had difficulty in denying was anything less than a call to arms for the West Lothian club. Recalling the days when Marvin Andrews was the lion-hearted leader on the pitch, Hughes hailed Almondvale as a vibrant place, and his mission was to get back to that, adding that his creed was to “pass the ball and play the right way”.
Having experienced many vagaries of fortune during his time in the game, the last thing Hughes is likely to do, however, is get carried away by one emphatic result.
The goal that got things rolling once again for Yogi arrived after a spell of fairly evenly balanced sparring, but he must have also been taken with his side’s incisiveness on the break. Raith’s Grant Murray lost control of the ball midway in his own half and in an instant Mark McNulty pounced, fed the on-rushing Bobby Barr who seemed set to score himself before being thwarted by the outstretched leg of David McGurn. Unfortunately for the visitors’ keeper the rebound rolled straight to Keaghan Jacobs who fairly belted it towards the net, with a deflection off the grounded Barr merely helping it on its way.
Raith, who had knocked the ball around in measured fashion up to this point, fell out of things badly after that and they must have had cause for regret that Pat Clarke and Iain Davidson had not made more of a couple of half-chances that had come their way. Whether it was attributable to the Yogi affect might be down to conjecture, but the West Lothian side certainly had an extra spring in their step and a nicely floated pass from Jason Talbot picked out McNulty who came close to putting them two-up with a cracking shot which McGurn did incredibly well to tip over the bar.
Livingston came out firing on all cylinders after the interval, looking to strike a decisive blow. It was not long in coming as McNulty yet again found himself in space and drilled a precision shot across McGurn and into the bottom corner of the net. Within a couple of minutes it was nearly three with Jacobs lashing a rising drive off the underside of the crossbar.
The rampaging McNulty struck again just on the hour mark, sliding in at the far post to divert a Barr cross over the line with McGurn left stranded. After that it just seemed to be in the script that the Livingston striker would be taking the match ball home with him and sure enough with the assistance of a mistimed challenge in the box by Grant Murray – who was red-carded for his troubles – McNulty stepped forward and duly got his hat-trick from the resultant penalty kick.