Livingston captain at the age of 22, a rock at the heart of their defence and a career-best goal tally of six for the campaign. It has been a season to remember for young Craig Halkett.
Yesterday, however, was a day to forget.
The former Rangers defender was culpable against Queen of the South, surrendering possession to Stephen Dobbie in the lead-up to Chris Kane’s well-taken and, ultimately decisive, first-half goal.
The 1-0 triumph for the Doonhamers, which could have been more handsome if not for a fine showing by Neil Alexander, lifted Queens into the final promotion play-off place at the expense of Livingston.
David Hopkin’s men are enduring their first truly testing period in an otherwise excellent return to the second tier, with only one win in their last six matches, and will reflect ruefully on a gilt-edged miss by Steven Boyd late on. Nevertheless, it was Halkett’s error which proved the defining moment.
“We gave a schoolboy goal away,” said Hopkin honestly. “It was terrible defending, something we’re not used to doing. Craig knows that too.
“When you are playing two against two at the back, you go long. We just gave the goal away and then you’ve got to give Queens credit for sitting in and making it so difficult for us.
“Craig has been immense, but I keep saying that if you are a defender or keeper and you make a mistake it’s a goal. Even after the initial mistake, when it comes back off the bar, the boy [Kane] gets in before Alan Lithgow to score. The boys gave me everything to get back into it but we lacked that wee bit of quality. We huffed and puffed and Steven Boyd had a great chance with a header, which he should have scored from as well.”
The pedestrian opening exchanges were illuminated after 20 minutes by Raffaele de Vita, performing admirably in an unfamiliar right wing-back role, as the Italian jinked into the box and produced a somewhat scuffed shot which trickled against the post.
That appeared to spark Queens into life, with the evergreen Dobbie scampering clear on goal and forcing a fine low save from Alexander to retain parity. The palms of the former Scotland keeper were further warmed on a baltic afternoon when he stooped to stop a Shaun Rooney header.
The visitors claimed a merited lead on the cusp of half-time. Halkett clumsily dallied on the ball in his own half and was robbed by Dobbie, allowing the striker to bear down on Alexander and rattle the bar. Kane was on hand to react swiftly and fire the rebound into the net. Another defensive error almost allowed Queens to double their advantage after the break. This time Nikolay Todorov was the culprit, surrendering possession to Dobbie in the final third and forcing Alexander to make a fine low save to deny the Championship’s top scorer.
The towering Bulgarian, on a season-long loan from Hearts, sought to make a more impressive impact at the other end and saw his header cleared off the line by Joe Thomson as the Lions chased a leveller.
The equaliser should have come in the dying embers but substitute Boyd, unmarked and six yards from goal, somehow contrived to direct his header wide of the post as Queens, missing six first-team players, held firm.
“We were down to the bare bones but I thought they gave me everything,” lauded Queens boss Gary Naysmith. “It wasn’t a classic but I think we edged it on chances created. Sometimes in football when you work hard you get a wee break.
“It’s irrelevant we’re in the top four just now. We just want to keep in with the pack and I won’t set any targets until we get everybody back fit.”