Livingston's draw with Hearts far from a bonnie game - but both teams can take positives
The stalemate made it ten games without defeat for Hearts, who were also able to boast another clean sheet. Looking to secure their status as the third best team in the country, they prevented the side currently leading the chase the opportunity to close the gap and did so while resting some of the top players ahead of Wednesday’s clash with Rangers, and getting some more game-time into the legs of newcomers Yutaro Oda and Garang Kuol.
For Livingston, it was their sixth game without a loss, and, according to manager David Martindale, their last without influential forward Joel Nouble, who is “99.9 per cnt” certain to return for the midweek trip to Celtic Park. The West Lothian gaffer has, understandably, been linked with the Aberdeen vacancy, and given how often he manages to recruit and prepare his teams to punch above their weight, his current employers will be hoping he does not have his head turned.
As a warm up for big games against Glasgow’s big two, both managers can be satisfied that this one did not harm them – unless Cammy Devlin’s tight hamstring, which forced him off in the second half, doesn’t settle and denies Hearts his industry when Michael Beale’s team head east.
But, it wasn’t a bonnie game. Battling the wind, which saw players misjudge the weight of passes on the artificial pitch, the play rarely flowed and Hearts midfield performance dipped below their usual standards as the sides took a more direct approach.
Hearts had rested Robert Snodgrass, Barrie McKay and Josh Ginnelly, and their football brain, technical guile and pace were missed. Defensively, Michael Smith and James Hill didn’t even make the bench after knocks in last weekend’s derby but there were quality replacements as Stephen Kingsley slipped back in alongside Kye Rowles and Toby Sibbick and Aussie international Nathaniel Atkinson was brought back to patrol the right flank. But, there was little excitement for the 6393 crowd as the competitiveness of the contest was not matched by the calibre of the action.
Goalmouth chances were few and far between as the teams snuffed out threats. Livi were busy up front but faced with a defence that has grown in stature in recent weeks they couldn’t muster a breakthrough, while, at the other end, Oda struggled to make an impact and it was left to Lawrence Shankland and Stephen Humphrys to apply the pressure. They found it easier to do that when Oda was replaced by Kuol after the break.
Shankland did send a header over the first half and Humphrys tested Shamal George, but it was the young Socceroo who forced the goalkeeper into a solid double save minutes after the interval.
Livi had their own moments, though. None better than when Steven Bradley had the vision to lob Zander Clark with around an hour gone. The ball was on target but Rowles retreated quickly enough to hook the ball away on the line.
It left the teams to see out their second draw of the season, after the West Lothian side had won the September opener.