An occasionally anxious night for the home support - notably in the first 50 minutes and the last couple of minutes - ultimately ended with Hibs toasting an eighth consecutive victory and a 13th in 14 competitive matches. From being 11 points behind Rangers just a few weeks ago, Alan Stubbs’ mean green winning machine are now within two of Mark Warburton’s Championship leaders, albeit having played a game more.
James Keatings’ superbly-executed second-half double did the damage, knocking the stuffing out of a Livingston side who had been full of menace prior to the concession of the opener seven minutes after the interval. The former Hearts attacker took his tally to five goals in his last two games and seven in seven starts on a night when fellow forward Jason Cummings saw his seven-game scoring streak come to an end.
Darren McGregor came back into the Hibs defence to replace Paul Hanlon, who missed out for only the second time this season due to a hamstring injury. Martin Boyle made his first start since the September draw at home to St Mirren as he deputised in attack for Dominique Malonga, who was on international duty with Congo. Dylan McGeouch was on the bench after missing the last two matches with the injury that forced him off early in the victory over Rangers at the start of the month.
On a drizzly night in the Capital, a minute’s silence was held before kick-off in memory of the those murdered in last Friday’s terrorist atrocities in Paris. When the action got under way, Livingston threatened almost immediately after Myles Hippolyte launched a long throw deep into the penalty area, but Jordan White’s close-range header lacked the power to trouble Mark Oxley.
Despite their relatively lowly league status, the seventh-place Lions were clearly eager to signal some early intent and Declan Gallagher caused anxiety among the home support when he met a Ross Millen corner at the far post but just failed to direct it on target.
Hibs’ first chance of the night came in the sixth minute, but Keatings, again playing in his new attacking-midfield berth, fluffed his shot wide after being teed up 12 yards out by Boyle.
Livingston were proving to be something of a menace to the home side early on and Morgyn Neill headed straight at Oxley a minute later after Hippolyte had nodded a free-kick into the danger area.
The first booking of the evening came after ten minutes when Livingston left-back Jackson Longridge was booked for wiping out Fyvie in front of the home dugout.
Hibs were struggling to generate any sustained rhythm but they did go close in the 11th minute when Liam Henderson rasped a shot just over the bar from the edge of the box after being set up by a square pass from Lewis Stevenson.
The visitors were showing no shortage of ambition, though, and a Millen cross from the right sparked panic in the Hibs area, forcing Oxley to punch the ball out, before Faria blasted the loose ball high over from outside the box.
Hibs should have gone ahead in the 13th minute when a long kick-out from Oxley, who scored against the Lions last season, sent Cummings scampering clean through on goal. The striker, who has been linked with a host of English clubs in recent days, looked odds-on to score for the eighth game running when he rounded the advancing Marc McCallum, but, albeit from a slightly acute angle, he pinged his shot high into the sidenetting. The 20-year-old’s frustration was clear to see as he rued the passing of what would remain the best chance of an end-to-end first half.
Two minutes later Keatings got himself a sight of goal after good work by John McGinn to force the ball through to him but Neill got across to block the former Hearts attacker’s powerful goalbound strike.
Although played amid a low-key atmosphere, there were no shortage of chances at both ends. Boyle should have hit the target in the 20th minute after being played in following an excellent flowing attack involving Keatings and McGinn in the 20th minute, but the former Montrose and Dundee striker drilled his shot wide of the far post from 12 yards out.
Livingston had a golden opportunity to break the deadlock in the 27th minute when Longridge’s low cross found Millen in space in the box, but just as the right-back looked unleashed his shot, McGregor got across to make a vital block.
There was a similar instance of defensive heroics at the other end a few minute later when Gallacher made a magnificent goal-saving tackle as Boyle looked all set to net after taking a Fyvie cross in his stride.
McGinn then saw a firm half-volley from the angle of the box held by McCallum before Kieran Gibbons blasted over from 25 yards at the other end.
Fontaine and Henderson both went close for Hibs in quick succession before Livingston striker Hippolyte flicked a header just over from a Millen free-kick two minutes before the break.
The second half started in fraught fashion for the hosts, with Oxley having to beat away a close-range strike from Scott Pittman in the 47th minute before Hippolyte glanced a header goalwards from a Millen corner, forcing Keatings to kick off the line.
Oxley then had to make another vital save with his legs in the 50th minute after Hippolyte danced into the danger area and unleashed a low shot from 12 yards out.
However, the tension which had been building around Easter Road was relieved in an instant when Hibs took the lead in the 52nd minute. The breakthrough came following some excellent work from McGinn, who cut in from the left and split the Livingston defence with a lovely through ball. Keatings was alert to it and raced in to gleefully nutmeg McCallum from just outside the six-yard box.
McGeouch came on for Boyle immediately afterwards and set up David Gray just outside the box, but the captain’s low strike was deflected behind for a corner.
Livingston looked subdued after falling behind and both Cummings and Keatings were denied by McCallum in quick succession as Hibs looked to kill off their visitors. Cummings then headed wide from McGinn’s cross in the 63rd minute and showed his frustration by booting a hole in an advertising board behind the goal. McGinn was denied by a magnificent save from McCallum a minute later after finding himself clean through on goal.
Hibs were carving out opportunities at will by this point and Fyvie got himself a rare sight of goal when he took a Henderson through ball down on the edge of the box, but the midfielder screwed his volley horribly wide.
There was to be no such profligacy from Keatings two minutes later, however, as he ran purposefully at the Livingston defence before despatching a brilliant left-footed strike beyond McCallum from the edge of the box. The former Hearts man almost made it back-to-back hat-tricks in the 82nd minute but he hooked a Gray cross agonisingly wide from close range.
Hibs looked to be in total cruise control, but Livingston set up a nervy finale for the home support when Jordyn Sheerin drove home a cutback from his fellow substitute Liam Buchanan with four minutes left. The hosts, as they have done so often over the last three months, held their nerve and held on to the points.
Hibs: Oxley, Gray, McGregor, Fontaine, Stevenson, Henderson (Bartley 75), Fyvie, McGinn, Keatings, Boyle (McGeouch 53), Cummings (Feruz 82). Subs not used: Reguero, El Alagui, Forster, Eckersley.
Livingston: McCallum, Millen, Longridge, Gordon, Pittman, Faria (Georgiev 82), White (Sheerin 82), Hippolyte (Buchanan 68), Gallagher, Neill, Gibbons. Subs not used: Jamieson, Glen.
Ref: Craig Thomson