Hearts debrief: One man outshines matchwinner Lawrence Shankland but Livingston make it a contest

How Hearts overcame battling Livingston to cement third place in the Premiership

Hearts manager Steven Naismith praised his players after the recent derby, hailing their ability to get the job done. There were similar plaudits after they found a way past bottom-of-the-table Livingston.

Without their Aussies, who have already joined up with the Socceroos ahead of the Asian Cup, there was another shuffle of the pack by the Gorgie boss but by the time the full-time whistle sounded, captain Lawrence Shankland had again grabbed the headlines, with a sublime finish in the 64th minute to secure all three points. He had Alan Forrest to thank for the assist - the former Livi player’s second of the match - and fellow forward Kenneth Vargas for setting the ball rolling.

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On a tough afternoon, when Livingston actually had the ball in the net first but were denied the goal by an offside spotted by VAR, the whole Hearts team had to match their hosts’ industry, stand up to their poking and probing, display that extra wee bit of class when it mattered, and use their nous in the latter stages.

Hearts' Kenneth Vargas opens the scoring against Livingston. Photo by Roddy Scott / SNS GroupHearts' Kenneth Vargas opens the scoring against Livingston. Photo by Roddy Scott / SNS Group
Hearts' Kenneth Vargas opens the scoring against Livingston. Photo by Roddy Scott / SNS Group

The fact they managed all that means they safeguarded their third-place status as they head into the winter break. In a run of festive fixtures that reaped 13 points from 15, while it hasn’t all been pretty it has, on the whole, been effective.

Initially built on clean sheets, the Livi outing, like the draw with Ross County before it, saw them concede but, this time, despite their West Lothian rivals’ positive start, they had plumped up a two-goal cushion and demonstrated solid game management against a team who sparked hope in their fight for Premiership survival by finding the net at home for the first time since early October. Ultimately, it was their 11th loss in 13 games but manager David Martindale has over-delivered many times before and much now depends on a successful transfer window.

He feels he may have had something more to show for the toils against Hearts had it not been for Shankland. But, while he grabbed the crucial second goal, he wasn’t actually the star man in maroon, with Forrest the one pulling the creative strings.

Shankland came close to converting in the 34th minute but was denied by the bar. That was a much-needed response to an early Ayo Obileye header, which tested Zander Clark, and then the disallowed goal. Kurtis Guthrie’s header found the goal but, after a prolonged VAR check, the score remained 0-0.

Forrest was a picture of drive and determination as he burst into the box in the second period, only to be felled by Mikey Devlin. Wrongly denied a penalty and booked for diving in his previous outing, this time the referee pointed to the spot. But Shankland’s effort was saved by Jack Hamilton.

Forrest found another way and with 53 minutes gone, he picked out Vargas, who slotted his effort under the keeper. Shankland was the next Forrest beneficiary, picking up the pass on the edge of the area and curling a sumptuous finish goalwards with the outside of his right boot.

Another VAR check with 11 minutes remaining deemed Frankie Kent culpable of a hand ball and Shinnie buried the penalty. But there was no comeback. Not against a side willing and able to simply see out the game.



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