We’ve grown used to penalty shoot-outs in the opening weeks of the season in the Betfred Cup and this game continued with a variant of the theme, featuring a stick- on penalty claim turned down, a questionable one given and third that was clear-cut but ultimately squandered. It may have somehow ended all-square but Dunfermline were probably the happier in the light of Sean Murdoch denying the hosts’ Danny Mullen spot kick with a diving save with just four minutes remaining.
If nothing else, such twists and turns were an early reminder of just how fiercely competitive a division the Championship is likely to be this season with the ‘big three’ of Rangers, Hearts and Hibs now gone.
Any thoughts that this might be straightforward affair for Dunfermline after their heroics at Tynecastle the previous week were quickly disabused as Livingston dominated the opening 45 minutes and deservedly led at the interval through Scott Pittman’s goal. Had Mullen found the back of the net with his late penalty to take the three points for David Hopkin’s side few could have quibbled.
“I think we would have taken a point before the game,” insisted Hopkin, “we were playing against a very well-organised and very good side in Dunfermline. I told the boys if we got anything else I’d be delighted. I thought we could have scored a few more and obviously we’ve missed the penalty but to be fair to Danny he’s created it himself – he’s given two experienced centre-backs a very hard afternoon.”
After unfurling the championship flag to mark their winning of the League One title last season, Livingston didn’t hang about with the ceremonials. Within seconds they were harrying their opponents’ diffident-looking rearguard and almost took the lead with their first attack of the game as Josh Mullin raced forward and tested Murdoch with a low drive.
This set the tone for a decent first half performance from the West Lothian men which never let the visitors, whose supporters had turned up in impressive numbers, get into their stride.
The hosts were knocking on the door with efforts from Dale Carrick, another from Mullin, and a rasping 30-yard strike from Declan Gallagher. A quickly-taken corner then saw the Fifers’ defence caught dozing and Scott Pittman had time to run in from the right before curling in a low drive to put them in front.
Dunfermline did look a whole lot hungrier and more focused after the interval. There were howls for a penalty soon after the restart as substitute David Hopkirk fell to the ground in the Livingston box but despite it looking like a plausible shout, match referee Alan Newlands wasn’t interested.
The home side were still as tenacious as ever, with captain Craig Halkett seeing a header booted off the line, but they weren’t able to impose themselves as they had earlier.
The decisive moment arrived when Joe Cardle toppled over in the box as he headed towards the goal line and to the disbelief of both sets of fans, Mr Newlands pointed to the spot this time. Kallum Higginbotham ignored all the commotion to stroke home the equaliser.
Fortuitous award or not, it ensured the game was transformed into the end-to-end encounter that had been anticipated from the start. There wasn’t a plethora of goalmouth action but there was a real edge to the proceedings.
The last real chance was to come the way of the hosts, when Jean-Yves M’Voto recklessly dived in on Mullen in his own box. The Livingston striker picked himself up to take the undisputed penalty but looked on aghast as Murdoch palmed it away to safety.
“We should be winning games like this,” contended Dunfermline manager Allan Johnston, “but you’re not going to win games the way we started this match. But second half, credit to the players, they did things a lot better.”