No winner as faceless figure behind curtain spoils Hearts' 1-1 draw with Livingston

When Robbie Neilson described matters as a shambles after this 1-1 draw between Hearts and Livingston, there were nods of assent as this match once again proved that when VAR gets too heavily involved, no-one wins.

Referee Craig Napier goes to the VAR machine during a cinch Premiership match between Hearts and Livingston.
Referee Craig Napier goes to the VAR machine during a cinch Premiership match between Hearts and Livingston.

Not when it constantly interrupts the flow of the game, killing the tempo and the passion which is so integral to the Scottish game. Not when it causes chaos and confusion and certainly not when it makes it appear that results the match being officiated by a faceless figure behind the curtain, with referee Craig Napier the puppet rather than the puppeteer.

As a match, this one had plenty to offer, with both sides aware that a victory would take them into the winter break in third spot in the cinch Premiership, depending on results elsewhere. In the end Livingston sit fourth, with Hearts fifth.

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In the first half Livingston were content to let the home side dominate possession, but were determined not to let them do anything with it. Then, having succeeded in rebuffing efforts, which were, in truth, not precise or penetrative enough, the away side took the lead. But at the end of a crazy stop-start second half, Hearts showed their fighting character and grabbed a late, late equaliser.

Hearts' Josh Ginnelly scored deep into stoppage time to rescue a point against Livingston.
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The Jambos had started the match with two of their three World Cup Socceroos in the line-up. Keen to get more game time into his legs following his long injury lay-off, Kye Rowles made just his second start since August. Cammy Devlin had been named alongside Nat Atkinson on the subs bench but when Andy Halliday’s Achilles niggle flared up in the warm-up, the midfielder was thrown in.

Livingston, though, are not a team to be bothered by reputations and, ranked above their hosts in the league table, they were always going to make things difficult. They did have goalkeeper Ivan Konovalov to thank for a couple of key saves, from Josh Ginnelly in the first half and then a double save from Lawrence Shankland in the second. Both players had other decent chances but skied them over, while the away side did a solid job in defending their area.

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Livingston’s opener came in the 55th minute when Konovalov’s long ball was controlled by Andrew Shinnie, who then played in Stephen Kelly. He drifted beyond Rowles and found the far corner.

Hearts were reduced to 10 men when Rowles tugged at Joel Nouble’s shirt and, caught by VAR, he was deemed to have denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity and red carded. But Livi’s penalty taker, Sean Kelly, was denied by Craig Gordon’s legs.

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With 15 minutes of regulation time left, that proved a catalyst as Hearts sought out the opportunity to equalise and remain in touch with the teams currently vying for the third place spot they intend to make their own.

More calls for VAR were ignored as the home crowd roared for everything, hoping someone would open the door for them, rather than bank on their team finding the key needed to unlock the visiting rearguard.

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The technology was involved in ruling out another red card, this time for an Alex Cochrane challenge on Nicky Devlin, and then in ratifying the equaliser, despite claims of a foul and a handball in the build up. It was a 97th-minute effort and it was Josh Ginnelly who fizzed it into the net to ensure a share of the spoils.