A FIRST-EVER league victory at Almondvale gave a massive boost to Hearts’ hopes of finishing third in the SPL as they stretched nine points clear of fourth-placed Dunfermline.
Livingston 2, Hearts 3
February 24, 2004
The visitors refused to make life easy for themselves, though, and looked decidedly out of sorts early on as they conceded an early goal.
Inspired however by Phil Stamp, an early substitute for Paul Hartley, they fought their way back into a lead, and, although Livingston equalised, a late winner from the head of Kevin McKenna secured the points for Craig Levein’s side.
The opening stages of the game were decidedly one-sided, with Livingston requiring only five minutes to establish a lead. Striker Colin McMenamin skipped past two opponents and was brought down by Steven Pressley just outside the box. The resultant free-kick was curled by Lee Makel into the bottom right corner of the Hearts net. Slowly, Hearts made their way back into the match, and with almost 20 minutes on the clock a snapshot on the run from Mark de Vries went just wide of the goal being protected by Hearts keeper Roddy McKenzie.
Just as they were getting into their rhythm, the Edinburgh side were forced into a change with Stamp coming on for Hartley.
Curiously, though, it was not long before Hearts were level. McKenna picked up the ball some 40 yards out, and from the Canadian’s drifted cross De Vries stole between two Livi defenders to head home.
A minute after the restart, Hearts took the lead. Stamp, growing in confidence every time he took possession, and he set off on another run and fired in a shot from more than 30 yards out. McKenzie did well to get his hands to it but was unable to collect, and the rebound fell to Andy Kirk who first-timed it into the net from the edge of the six-yard box.
The way the match was going, that might have been the sign for Hearts to take complete control, but instead Livingston made their way back into it. Ten minutes into the second period McMenamin was mocked by the away support when he twice failed to find the net after being ruled offside. A minute later, the Livingston striker conjured the best possible replay and got his own back by scoring his team’s second goal.
A ball up to David Fernandez was partially dealt with by Andy Webster, but the Spaniard recovered possession near the corner flag. Although closely shepherded by Pressley, Fernandez sent in a teasing cross to the back post, and Makel’s knockdown was side-footed in by McMenamin.
The introduction of Dennis Wyness for De Vries provided Hearts with more pace up front if less of an aerial threat. That threat remained, however, at set-pieces, and with seven minutes left McKenna found space in a ruck of bodies to head in a corner from Robert Sloan.