Hibs await Bill Foley SFA talks - but proof of investment is already there as victory over Livingston comes amid VAR drama

Montgomery’s men move up to fourth in Premiership table but win is not without drama

News that Hibs will meet with the SFA on Thursday to discuss billionaire Bill Foley's potential investment in the club will be music to the ears of fans, but there are already promising signs that those charged with winning games on the park are increasingly invested in what manager Nick Montgomery is proposing.

Determined to get back to winning ways after their midweek defeat at Celtic Park blemished their recent run of wins, they were made to battle for the points against bottom of the pile Livingston. It was a game where VAR gave with one hand and took away with the other. But by the time the dust settled Hibs won 1-0 and were the team sitting fourth in the Premiership – having overhauled their Edinburgh foes Hearts - while their West Lothian hosts were sitting five points behind their nearest relegation rivals.

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It seemed harsh on David Martindale’s men, who looked the more likely to score in the opening period, and rounded off the 90 minutes on the front foot. But the fact they were unable to make the breakthrough when they were on top merely underlined the issues they will need to address with the help of the January transfer window if they are to survive in the top tier.

Martin Boyle netted Hibs' winner against Livingston.Martin Boyle netted Hibs' winner against Livingston.
Martin Boyle netted Hibs' winner against Livingston.

As a team they have not scored in 595 regulation minutes of football. That’s uncomfortably close to ten hours and explains the paucity of points. But, three of the last four goals they have netted have been penalties and with Hibs keeper David Marshall pulling off a couple of great saves in open play, spot kicks might have been their route to glory once again had VAR not denied them a couple of penalty opportunities.

The first in the 38th minute seemed the best shout but that was the one that the referee and his VAR equivalent waved aside after Kurtis Guthrie went down under the slightly clumsy attentions of Joe Newell. It wasn’t deemed worthy of a second look, frustrating the home side, who had already been dealt the blow of Martin Boyle’s goal nine minutes earlier. That came courtesy of an Elie Youan breakaway and the composed finish of the Socceroo striker. It was clinical but it was also, arguably, against the run of play.

Prior to that, James Penrice had been dangerous down the left flank, while Sean Kelly, Scott Pittman and Andrew Shinnie had helped to keep the guests penned in. But the finishing let them down, as Hibs remained resolute in defence and refused to panic, especially when the pace and attacking guile of Jair Tavares, Youan, Dylan Vente and Boyle provided momentary respite, albeit without the preferred end product until Boyle stepped up.

In those earlier stages, though, Livingston looked hungrier. Quicker to the ball, they were proactive and pressed for corners and set pieces deep in the Hibs half. When Hibs did create openings, the hosts anticipated the danger and made last-gasp interceptions. So it was a shock to the system when Boyle broke the deadlock but if it stunned Livi, it sparked life into their visitors, who started making the right decisions about how and when to play out from the back, and push through the middle or launch it upfield for the pacy forwards to pounce.

In truth the pitch and the conditions made it tough to produce anything of real beauty but in the end, the approach, allied to some battling qualities and team spirit, was effective enough. It looked like they had made it 2-0 just four minutes into the second period after a howler from Livingston keeper Shamal George and defender Ayo Obileye failed to deal with a ball dropped in on top of them. It gave Hibs the chance to loft the ball into Vente in a central area and he headed into the gaping net. But VAR was again involved as a lengthy perusal culminated in an offside decision and the goal being disallowed.

There was more of that to come. Hibs had been fairly comfortable since grabbing the opener but as time ebbed Livingston pushed hard to glean something for their afternoon’s toils and started to home in on Marshall's goal but when they did find a way through the men in front of him, the former Scotland keeper was in miserly mood, parrying a Kelly shot in the 62nd minute, which was followed up by a Newell clearing a Bruce Anderson shot on the turn. Then in the 68th minute, Marshall again showcased his star quality, coming out to make himself big and block a close range effort from Anderson.

But the late tension was created when there were shouts for a Hanlon handball with time almost up. Irvine was invited to review and while the penalty looked a stonewaller, the fact that there was an offside infringement earlier in the attack allowed Hibs to see out the match without further drama and left Livingston trying to figure out how they can get their season back on track.