Livingston’s players warmed up for the biggest match of their recent history wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan “In Hoppy We Trust”.
If the Lions complete this miraculous journey to the Premiership, they might just emblazon that on a statue outside Almondvale.
Newly-promoted from League 1 and operating with a comparable budget to the Championship’s perennial relegation contenders, to finish in second place was staggering. To see off the comparative might of Dundee United in the play-offs is incredible.
Are they aggressive? Damn right. Industrial? On occasion. Effective? Absolutely. They can also play a bit, and one of their strengths is devastating set-pieces, as illustrated by Alan Lithgow’s early opening goal. United levelled through Scott Fraser but, however much they huffed and puffed, they could not blow David ‘Hoppy’ Hopkin’s house down.
A squad assembled on a pittance from other clubs’ cast-offs, fine young talents such as Craig Halkett and the odd veteran are 180 minutes from returning to the top flight for the first time since 2006.
United, meanwhile, are condemned to another season in the Championship. Recently-appointed chairman Mike Martin has previously stated that Csaba Laszlo would retain his job regardless of the result last night. His resolve on that will now be tested.
Meanwhile, Hopkin’s charges have shaken a fanbase from its crippling apathy. At least for the moment. The South Stand, effectively dormant for years, had to be opened to home supporters last night. and those fans were still being directed to their seats when the hosts claimed the lead. A deep Keaghan Jacobs free-kick was nodded across the face of goal, beyond the flailing arms of goalkeeper Harry Lewis, and headed home by Lithgow.
The manner of the concession was indicative of a United side who appeared terrified any time a long ball entered their penalty area. At the other end, however, they were lively as they sought a way back into the tie.
A wonderful block by Halkett was required to deny a goalbound Scott McDonald effort following a slick through ball by the excellent Fraser.
Fraser, pictured, then took matters into his own hands with 21 minutes on the clock. The classy playmaker latched on to a neat McDonald reverse pass inside the box before turning Jackson Longridge inside-out and defying a prohibitive angle to slam a low drive beyond Neil Alexander.
Within two minutes of the restart Livi had struck the woodwork, Scott Pittman breaching a ragged offside trap to hare through on goal and fizz a low shot off the post. Jordan Thompson, following up, saw his rebound blocked by Stewart Murdoch.
More wonderful Livi defending, this time by Lithgow, denied Thomas Mikkelsen, the goalscorer throwing his body in front of a close-range shot by the towering Dane.
Still reeling from referee Don Robertson’s failure to award a penalty for a blatant handball by Bilel Mohsni, a sharp low save by Alexander saved Livi from further ire as he pounced on an instinctive Billy King shot.
In a blockbuster finale, Scott Robinson crashed a shot against the underside of the bar before, as the clock hit 90, McDonald hit a close-range shot against the legs of Alexander.