Immature Hibs show their frailties against tenacious Livingston after pre-match 'emergency situation'
You knew this would be a dramatic afternoon at the Tony Macaroni Arena even before Livingston v Hibs kicked off.
At 2.30pm, a repeated message came over the tannoy, declaring an “emergency situation” and asking everyone inside the stadium to leave. Cue concerned faces and at least half of those already seated exiting the premises, only for someone to find the mic and declare it a false alarm, before sticking on Kanye West and Rihanna to calm everyone down.
The haphazard madness continued on the pitch. Livingston ended up winning 2-1 in what was a pulsating match full of quality, mistakes and controversy. Both sets of fans had moments of jubilation and ire. There will be regret, particularly from those in the Hibs camp, for starting the match so poorly and then taking control, only for it to slip away at the death.
Livingston came out like a scalded cat. They snapped into tackles, pressed Hibs and made life extremely uncomfortable. Their reward came just six minutes in when a slack pass from Marijan Cabraja was seized upon by Jason Holt. He fed Joel Nouble and the hulking forward steamrollered through Paul Hanlon before coolly finishing.
Such was the ineptitude on show from Hibs in the first 45 minutes, Livingston really ought to have won it in that period. Nouble, excellent throughout and a bully of Hanlon, missed a good chance. The visitors could not get started, unable to live with the hungry Lions. Joe Newell and Ewan Henderson were anonymous in midfield and the hapless Jair Tavares was hooked at half-time by his manager Lee Johnson, such was his sub-standard performance.
Despite Hibs’ derby heroics last weekend and opening-day win over St Johnstone, you can tell they are a real work in progress. More seasoned cinch Premiership teams will prey on them until they mature, particularly away from Easter Road. Johnson likened them to a toddler being burned after being asked to make a cup of tea.
He brought out the hair-dryer at half-time, brought on Martin Boyle for Tavares and within six minutes Hibs were level, midfielder Nohan Kenneh heading home for close range. They then forced seven corners in ten pulsating minutes, but Livingston weathered the storm, and a penalty claim when Boyle tumbled under pressure from Stephane Omeonga. It led to an entertaining touchline altercation between the two managers, Johnson and David Martindale, and a yellow card for each.
The problem with this Hibs team right now though is that they are patchy. That comes from not being able to control midfield. Kenneh was the best of the bunch but Newell, in particular, for someone so experienced needs to assert himself more. Henderson’s streakiness doesn’t help them either, and Johnson could do with some more ballast in that part of the pitch. Omeonga, formerly of Hibs’ parish, wouldn’t be a bad player to turn to. Once again, he shone for Livi.
Livingston regrouped and fired a warning when Bruce Anderson was repelled by an excellent David Marshall save. It wasn’t heeded. Hibs had needed to reshuffle their defence due to Hanlon, only just back from injury, cramping up. On 86 minutes, Sean Kelly’s tantalising free-kick was met by the powerful Ayo Obileye and the defender’s downwards header sealed the victory.
Livingston now have six points from nine having played Rangers, Dundee United and Hibs and Martindale believes “something special” is brewing in West Lothian. Top six is achievable. For Hibs, they are back down to earth, and while this result does not bring its own emergency situation, with Rangers calling next week, they need to grow up fast.