Hearts 1-1 Livingston: MacLean rescues point for Jambos after Bartley's unlikely opener

Steven MacLean rescued a point for Hearts after Marvin Bartley's acrobatic, and unexpected, opener
Steven MacLean rescued a point for Hearts after Marvin Bartley's acrobatic, and unexpected, opener
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Speaking ahead of this game, Ann Budge described the on-going managerial recruitment process as "tortuous".

Given the protracted and confusing nature of the negotiations to free Daniel Stendel from his Barnsley shackles and get him installed at Tynecastle, her pain is shared by the Hearts fans and many of the players.

In a season of torment, it is simply the latest chapter in the horror story that now includes more dropped points, this time to Livingston, courtesy of an extremely rare goal from one of the Gorgie club’s biggest antagonisers.

Six weeks have passed since Craig Levein paid the price for the early season form, and little has improved in that time. Looking rudderless, the side are still pained by the prospect of relegation, unable to get the run of results needed to move up the table.

But, just when the home fans think things can’t get any worse, they often do.

Australian midfielder Ollie Bozanic called off ill; starting left-back Aaron Hickey was ruled out in the warm-up and replaced by Jamie Brandon and then 25 minutes into the match, influential striker Steven Naismith was forced off with yet another injury.

Rubbing salt in the wounds, former Hibs midfielder Marvin Bartley was the man who grabbed the opener just eight minutes later, the Livingston captain scoring his first goal since November 2014 with an acrobatic effort from close range.

There had been talk earlier in the week that Stendel would be at Tynecastle to take in this contest. It was probably a godsend that he missed the match, though.

He will be acutely aware that there is a huge task ahead of him, if the paperwork is eventually completed, but he may not know just how much work is needed to turn around flagging fortunes.

There were chances in the opening period of this game to get off to a bright start but the lack of conviction and menace in front of goal was a worry.

It was also costly as Livingston somehow managed to head up the tunnel at half-time a goal up, despite being the team under greater pressure throughout the opening 45 minutes.

While balls were played into decent areas, the final shot tended to be powder puff and, too often, off-target.

Bartley didn’t miss when he clattered Naismith in the sixth minute, letting the talismanic forward know that he was there and picking up a booking for his trouble, but Hearts still came at their guests.

With Glenn Whelan supplying the set pieces and Jake Mulraney charging up the left flank before whipping in crosses, Loic Damour, Naismith, Craig Halkett and Jamie Walker should all have done better.

In the 33rd minute, they were hit with the sucker-punch of Bartley’s goal. A long throw-in from Jon Guthrie was headed by Christophe Berra but seemed to ricochet off Halkett before falling to Bartley who demonstrated some unexpected goalmouth agility to hooked a right-footed volley into the net past Zdenek Zlamal, reinstated following Joel Pereira’s poor performance at Ibrox.

Ironically, Livingston were better in the second half but Gary Holt’s men looked like they would still hang on despite the reshuffling of personnel by Hearts’ stand-in boss Austin MacPhee.

They had tried to extend their advantage, with Lyndon Dykes and Steven Lawless having attempts but they couldn’t kill off the game.

Instead Hearts found a way to peg them back. Finally finding the luck they needed in the box.

Sean Clare tried to curl one past Matija Sarkic and Uche Ikpeazu headed a Whelan set piece goalwards but both attempts lacked venom and they had to wait until the 87th minute to seal a share of the points.

It was another scrappy affair, similar to Livinsgton’s opener. A ball into the area was poked and prodded about the six yard box before it finally fell for Steven MacLean and he slammed it home.

He could have added another in the dying seconds to completely turn the scoreline around but in the end they had to settle for a draw the muted some of the boos. But showed there is still plenty of work needed by Stendel when he arrives.