Martin Boyle returned to the Hibernian ranks in the nick of time. With the team staring defeat in the face and a tumble to the foot of the Premier League table looking inevitable, the speedy winger popped up with a late, late leveller.
In his first appearance since injuring his knee in July’s meeting with Elgin City, the Australian international was thrown on for the final 10 minutes of this encounter and made a telling impact, charging through in time added on to calmly slot past Matija Sarkic and give his side a fifth league draw in a row and catapult them up to ninth position.
It was an explosive and exciting finish to the match for a side who have too often been on the receiving end of such comebacks this season and the late flourish will offer the club some hope as they now head to the national stadium for Saturday’s League Cup semi final against holders Celtic.
That positivity was lacking in the opening period as the home side struggled to get going. This was a match that cast a mirror up to Hibernian and few in the ground liked the reflection. For most of the first half, they lacked the heart and the competitiveness of their opponents, particularly in one on one battles and, rather than take the game to their guests, in an effort to win back some pride and earn some much-needed points, Hibs actually sat off them and gave them the space to defy those who dismiss the West Lothian side as simply a team of grafters.
In recent week,s the story has been of the capital team’s inability to hold on to a lead but this was to prove a test of their resilience as they were left chasing a two-goal deficit.
The fact that they were able pull one back in the 62nd minute, gave them the momentum, and they made more of a contest of things as the game played out, but the frustration for the home fans and the manager is that they couldn’t convert more of the opportunities that came their way as Livingston displayed their stubborn streak.
The gaps in the stands told the story of the discontent that accompanies a run of one league win since April. The Leith fans have made it clear that they have lost patience with the current management and, with owner Ron Gordon in town, rumours of replacements were rife in the build up to kick-off.
The talk is that Jack Ross has apparently already been lined up, but Paul Heckingbottom was in defiant mood. He was the only one in Hibs’ ranks showing that kind of spirit as his men succumbed to two goals late in the first half to head in at the interval accompanied by now familiar boos.
There were warning signs as early as the second minute when Scott Pittman cut inside and slammed his shoot goalwards but Tom James was able to clear off the line.
Steven Lawless hit a volley that zipped just wide. McMillan then snuffed out a Daryl Horgan opening as Livingston proved themselves equal to their hosts.
The way that Livingston were able to ping the ball about and drag their opposition around as they advanced into space will be a concern as Hibs line up against Celtic, who are likely to be more devastating and unlikely to leave Heckingbottom’s men any way back.
James almost gave Hibs the lead with a 25-yard shot which forced a great diving save from Sarkic, but Livingston were not so profligate when Lawless rifled in a deflected screamer in the 38th minute.
Two minutes later, the lead was extended and it was another example of Hibs not being competitive enough. Ryan Porteous tried to clear, but there were too many bodies in the way and Craig Sibbald showed more fight to dig the ball clear and then stab it past Chris Maxwell. But Hibs came back at Livingston. Sending Flo Kamberi on to partner Doidge, they hit back. The first goal came from a penalty after Scott Allan tumbled in the box. Former team-mate Marvin Bartley was adamant that he hadn’t touched him, but Allan shut out the protests and converted from the spot.
Scott Tiffoney could have sealed it for Livi when he intercepted a Stevie Mallan pass-back and rounded Maxwell, but he sent the finish wide and that left the door open for Boyle to come on and make an impact.
After a trademark burst up the flank, he gave the Hibs fans something to cheer.