This was the kind of victory and performance that Hibernian supporters had been expecting to see most weeks in the Championship.
Scorers: Hibernian: Malonga 31, Handling 53, McGeouch 70 (pen), Heffernan 86
A convincing 4-0 victory stretched the Leith side’s unbeaten run to five games and propelled Hibs back into the Championship play-offs for the first time since the opening week of the season.
The Easter Road club have endured a frustrating start to life in the second tier, a struggle that has been amplified at the sight of city rivals Hearts creating a nine-point lead at the summit.
Hibs remain 14 points behind their Tynecastle counterparts ahead of next weekend’s visit of Robbie Neilson’s side, but head coach Alan Stubbs believes they are heading in the right direction after seeing Dominique Malonga, Danny Handling, Dylan McGeouch and Paul Heffernan find the net.
“It’s a good run of form to take into the derby. To be five games unbeaten against anyone is good form. I just hope that people judge us on the football pitch rather than everything else that is going on.
“It was one of those games when we scored first and put pressure on the opposition to try and do something. We found spaces and were very intelligent.”
Even Malonga’s tantrum at being substituted did not spoil Stubbs’ day. “I spoke to him and can guarantee it won’t happen again,” said the Hibs manager. “I’m glad he’s disappointed. I don’t know of any player that comes off being happy.”
With a suspected broken foot preventing Jordon Forster from playing, Stubbs went with three in defence in the shape of David Gray, Paul Hanlon and Callum Booth.
Lions manager John McGlynn made changes, too, following his side’s Petrofac Training Cup semi-final win over Stranraer on penalties last Sunday. Mark Burchill was handed only his second start of the season in attack, partnering former Hearts marksman Gary Glen.
The last time these sides met on the opening day of the Championship season, Hibs’ narrow 2-1 victory produced a freak footballing moment that has since amassed more than 2.1 million views on Youtube.
Easter Road goalkeeper Mark Oxley beat his opposite number, Darren Jamieson, with a punt from his own box, and yesterday the large travelling support implored the on-loan Hull shotstopper to shoot when he got his hands on the ball during the early exchanges.
But it was team-mate Malonga who had an opening to shoot from a more realistic range after three minutes. Controlling Lewis Stevenson’s pass just inside the area, Malonga had only Jamieson to beat, but the goalkeeper dived to his right to collect the tame effort.
Handling led a counter-attack after nine minutes that culminated in McGeouch cutting in from the right and producing a fierce left-footed strike from outside the area that was beaten away by the diving Jamieson.
Livingston tried to work their way into the game. Michael McKenna flashed an effort just over from the corner of the box before Burchill’s deflected first-time effort just cleared the crossbar from a Keaghan Jacobs’ corner.
But Jamieson’s Hibs jinx struck again after 31 minutes when his spill gifted Malonga a simple goal. Under pressure from Handling, the goalkeeper dropped Gray’s cross into the area and Malonga pounced to lift a high shot into the net from six yards.
The woodwork denied Hibs a second in first-half injury-time, with Scott Allan hammering a left-footed shot off the upright.
The Lions were the first to threaten after the restart, but a combination of an Oxley save and Gray clearance on the line kept out Keaghan Jacob’s back-post header.
That moment proved vital for Hibs, with the Leith outfit doubling their lead after 53 minutes. Jason Cummings’ deft touch on the edge of the box created space for Handling and the striker buried a right-footed effort into the corner of the net.
McGeouch added a penalty in the 70th minute after Cummings was felled by Craig Sives before substitute Paul Heffernan completed the rout with a neat finish at the front post.
Livingston manager John McGlynn, whose side are now bottom of the Championship on goal difference, said: “We didn’t deserve an awful low more, but maybe 4-0 is a bit harsh. It’s a sore one, but the best team won the game”
Livingston: Jamieson, Fordyce, Sives, Talbot, McKenna (Ogleby 65), Keaghan Jacobs (Rutherford 46), O’Brien, Kyle Jacobs, Glen, White, Burchill (Hippolyte 65). Subs not used: Robertson, Praprotnik, Mullen, Grant.
Hibs: Oxley, Gray, Hanlon, Booth, Stevenson, McGeouch, Robertson, Scott Allan, Handling (Harris 73), Malonga (Stanton 73), Cummings (Heffernan 84). Subs not used: Craig, Lewis Allan, Kennedy, Perntreou.
Referee: G Aitken.