Craig Gordon's sensational triple save helps Hearts go five points clear in third place
It is becoming repetitive to shower Craig Gordon with praise, but once again the veteran Hearts goalkeeper proved he is one of the best players in the cinch Premiership.
The evergreen 38-year-old goalkeeper has saved the Jambos on countless occasions this season, with his form allowing his to regain the Scotland gloves. His performance in this 1-0 victory for Hearts over Livingston at the Tony Macaroni Arena allowed Robbie Neilson’s men to move five points clear of Dundee United and Motherwell in third place.
The record books will show that Liam Boyce’s 50th-minute goal sealed the win for Hearts, but the reality is that not for a stunning triple save and other key interventions from Gordon, Livingston would have taken something from this entertaining encounter.
Hearts’ sizeable travelling support sang “Scotland’s Number One” at full time to acclaim their captain. The Tynecastle outfit are in the boxseat for European qualification as the campaign approaches the half-way juncture and Gordon is the main reason for that.
Livingston trudged off the pitch demoralised by taking nothing from a match they contributed so much in. They are now six games without a win and find themselves 11th in the league.
Having invested so much into Thursday night’s 1-0 defeat away at Celtic, it wasn’t entirely surprising that Hearts looked sluggish to begin with. Their cause was not helped by a tigerish Livingston team that did not give them a moment’s peace, with Jason Holt and Jack McMillan in particular pressing and snapping into tackles. Hearts found it difficult to keep hold of the ball and build meaningful attacks.
Livingston deployed Stephane Omeonga in a more advanced midfield role and the little Belgian was finding space and good passes. It was he who sent Andrew Shinnie clear on 25 minutes as the hosts came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock. Gordon spread himself and blocked Shinnie’s effort from close in, with the rebound falling to Craig Sibbald. His curling effort crashed off the post, with the ball recycled back to Holt. His shot was bound for the top corner before an outstretched Gordon turned it on to the post, before leaping back up to stop Allan Forrest’s shot from reaching the goal. It was an extraordinary bit of goalkeeping that the Scotland goalkeeper celebrated emphatically.
Neilson responded by hooking the largely ineffective Ben Woodburn for Peter Haring and switching from a 3-4-3 to a 4-2-3-1 to match Livingston’s set up. They at least brought a modicum of calmness to their play after a treacherous opening half-hour and could consider themselves fortunate to be level at the interval.
Their reaction at the start of the second half was almost instantaneous. John Souttar played a lovely pass into Barrie McKay, who sent the ball into the path of Boyce. The Northern Irishman, hitherto very quiet, made no mistake, finding the net despite Max Stryjek getting a touch. The goal elicited much exuberance among the away fans.
Livingston did not appear too disheartened by the concession of a goal. The game was more even but they were still attacking with intent. Gordon had to again react swiftly to stop a Forrest effort before Christian Montano’s vicious strike whistled just past the post.
Hearts spurned two glorious opportunities in the space of two minutes to seal the victory. Aaron McEneff lashed over the bar on 76 minutes when sent through by Boyce, before McKay rolled the ball wide from Alex Cochrane’s cutback. Livingston tried all they could to find an equaliser, but Hearts stood firm.