HIBERNIAN supporters are already sounding their battle cry ahead of next Saturday’s Edinburgh derby. ‘Mind the gap,’ came the refrain from the away end in West Lothian as the visitors climbed above Hearts for the first time this season.
Those delirious Hibees cared not a jot that they have played a game more that their fierce foes, nor that last night’s 2-1 victory was an unnecessarily nervy affair in the end.
They feel the momentum is with them and, given head coach Paul Heckingbottom has now picked up 16 points from a possible 18 in the Premiership since taking charge, it is difficult to argue with their assessment.
Hibs prevailed courtesy of goals from Paul Hanlon and Stevie Mallan and will seek to officially cement their top-six status when they host Kilmarnock in midweek, but attention among those who travelled from the capital was visibly already turning towards the Jambos.
Livingston were dealt a severe blow before a ball was kicked when it emerged that club captain Craig Halkett had suffered a leg knock in training and would miss out. Hakeem Odoffin came into the Lions side in his stead.
Marc McNulty led the line alongside Flo Kamberi and, while Scotland’s fixtures against Kazakhstan and San Marino may have prompted widespread rancour and navel gazing, the newly minted internationalist appeared invigorated by winning his first two caps.
It was McNulty’s superb hold-up play on the edge of the box that allowed Stevie Mallan to take up possession and unleash a superb drive, forcing a similarly magnificent save from Livi goalkeeper Liam Kelly.
Craig Sibbald fizzed a shot over the bar rom the edge of the box as Gary Holt’s men displayed some attacking verve of their own.
McNulty appeared determined to torment his former club and sent Kamberi scampering towards goal with a delightful through-ball, only for the Swiss striker to skew off-target from an admittedly prohibitive angle.
The encounter descended into an attritional affair with clear chances at a premium as the ball was liberally shelled forward, with Livingston, in particular, launching one aerial bombardment after another. It remained 0-0 as referee Nick Walsh mercifully signalled for half-time.
The visitors finally broke the deadlock with 20 minutes left on the clock. A devilish Mallan corner-kick was flicked on at the near-post by David Gray, sparking an almighty stramash before Marc McNulty deflected the ball towards Hanlon who lashed it into the roof of the net from point-blank range.
Having waited so long for the opener, Hibs swiftly doubled their advantage and, once again, it was down to the magic of Mallan. The former St Mirren kid collected a Lewis Stevenson pass before dancing past the challenge of Declan Gallagher and slotting a fine finish past Kelly.
True to form, Livi displayed a never-say-die attitude and pulled one back in injury-time when Ryan Hardie converted from the penalty spot after Steve Lawson had been fouled by Stevenson.
However, Hibs held firm as Heckingbottom’s honeymoon period continues.
LIVINGSTON (4-4-1-1): Kelly, Odoffin (Byrne 71), Lithgow, Gallagher, Brown (Lamie 67), Lawson, Pittman, Sibbald, Jacobs, Robinson, Erskine (Hardie 67). Subs not used: Stewart, De Vita, Wylde, Lawless.
HIBERNIAN (4-4-2): Marciano, Gray, McGregor, Hanlon, Stevenson, Horgan (Murray 67), Milligan, Mallan, Omeonga (Slivka 67), McNulty, (Shaw 90) Kamberi. Subs not used: Dabrowski, Bartley, Mackie, Allan.
Referee: Nick Walsh