This was a game which perfectly illustrated the value of a clinical finisher and it wasn’t lost on either manager.
While Hibs boss Neil Lennon was issuing what amounted to a final warning to Florian Kamberi and the rest of his misfiring front line, Gary Holt has made it clear he will not willingly hand on-loan Ryan Hardie back to Rangers in January.
While much has been made of Livingston’s defence and the solid foundation it affords the team, Hardie’s instinctive precision in front of goal has been just as impressive.
Running onto a direct ball forward in the 56th minute he calmly waited for home keeper Adam Bogdan to commit himself and dinked the ball beyond him and into the empty net. What Hibs boss Neil Lennon would have given for a finisher like that.
Instead he was left relying on young defender Ryan Porteous to dig his team out the mire with ten minutes remaining, after Kamberi has passed up a glorious opportunity to net from the penalty spot.
“It sums him up at the minute, he’s sloppy. I don’t know if it’s a lack of confidence or not but he hasn’t been taking penalties like that. His all round game at the minute is just not there. He’s had plenty of opportunities to turn things around but even today I asked him to put 90 minutes of work into 45 and told him we’d win the game. We put the ball into the box and had things around his feet as that’s what he’s good at but he’s not working hard enough and the point isn’t hitting home.”
Kamberi and Jamie Maclaren were the dream partnership last term but neither have reached their best levels this season, which is why they were left on the bench for the start of the game and their fed up manager has warned that he may have to look for alternatives in the January transfer window if they don’t rediscover that form soon.
“I can always change it the way I did last season when I got rid of Stokes and Murray and brought in other players and I can do that again.”
“Those two for haven’t been functioning, not working hard enough... I’m not happy about the goal we conceded because it’s just a straight ball through the middle of our defence. It’s embarrassing. And it comes from Kamberi giving the ball away and falling on his back side. He did that a lot. He’s nowhere near as hungry as he was last season and he needs to find that hunger again because he’s an important player for us.
“Obviously January’s coming and we’ll need to have a look at it but some of the players need to have a good look at themselves.”
Lennon had made all the right comments in the build up to this match, saying that Livingston, who started the day two places above them in the Premiership, were a side to be respected.
But while the top tier newcomers have long-since ditched their ‘surprise package’ tag, much of the success this term has come at home, where they have lost just once. On the road, they have been less dangerous, picking up only one win and that was back in August. In fact, the last time Gary Holt’s men picked up even a point on their travels was early October.
Perhaps with that in mind, and undoubtedly with thoughts in the two big games looming in the coming week, Lennon made six changes to his starting line-up, with a handful of kids thrown in with the task of overcoming a difficult opponent.
With Stevie Mallan injured, one of those was enforced, but he threw on the more recognised starters as the game progressed and he tried to wrestle the game back from Livingston who had taken the upper hand.
After a comfortable first half, the away side,who were buoyed by last week’s 5-0 mauling of Hearts, had gone one goal up 11 minutes into the second period, when Kamberi was outmuscled and Declan Gallagher played the long ball forward for Hardie.
Just over ten minutes later, they should have levelled but the Swiss striker’s spotkick was telegraphed and far too near Liam Kelly, who dived to stop the weak effort.
Hibs, on the back of wins over Hamilton and Celtic and a draw against Rangers in their last three fixtures were keen to take something from the game and Efe Ambrose was proactive in getting forward, while Porteous delivered the end product needed to ensure the took something from the game as he attacked substitute Daryl Horgan’s cross into the box and found the net.
Both sides tried to edge ahead but Martin Boyle and Maclaren passed up chances for Hibs and Steve Lawson was left with his head in his hands after he ballooned over from close range after getting on a Steven Lawless delivery.