GRIND-it-out victories are fast becoming a hallmark of this Hibs side as they managed to notch their fourth consecutive clean sheet and third 1-0 victory of this young season thanks to Liam Henderson’s stunning free-kick at the newly-named Tony Macaroni Arena.
The visitors were far from their best and had to suffer through an anxious final ten minutes when Livingston put them under considerable pressure. But despite the below-par showing and nervy final period, they were the stronger side for the most part and able to continue their stellar defensive record. Since the Petrofac Training Cup horror show against Rangers in the season’s opening match, Hibs have yet to concede a goal from open play.
“For me on the touchline I would like to be a little more relaxed,” joked manager Alan Stubbs. “The reason why we won today was our ability to keep a clean sheet, and that gives the lads confidence. I don’t think we were at our fluent best but there are more ways to win a match. You can’t win every game three or four nil.”
Hibs could have dominated to such an extent had they converted one of the many chances they had in the opening 20 minutes. John McGinn played the role of architect early as he laid off for Liam Henderson to curl one into the goalkeeper’s arms from 20 yards, before clipping a pinpoint cross into the penalty box for Jason Cummings to touch and shoot. The Hibs striker was only denied by a brilliant save by Darren Jamieson in the Livingston goal.
Even though the stop was of the highest quality, Cummings will feel he should have left the ’keeper with no chance, though his miss paled in comparison to Dominique Malonga’s sitter a short time after. The striker, deputising for James Keatings, somehow managed to hit the outside of the post after being presented with an open goal from five yards. Cummings had another chance again moments later but glanced his free header from ten yards well wide of goal.
Having weathered the storm, Livingston grew into the match as the half went on. Hibs were unable to keep up the frenetic pace and the frustration at being unable to break down the hosts allowed simple mistakes to creep into their game.
This almost proved disastrous just before half-time when a defensive calamity allowed Liam Buchanan to lay off for Scott Pittman, free on the right of the penalty area, 12 yards from goal. The midfielder lacked the composure to beat Mark Oxley, shooting off the ’keeper’s legs, before Buchanan’s follow-up was cleared off the line by Paul Hanlon.
Having finished the first half so strongly the hosts suffered a crushing blow five minutes following the restart when Gary Glen was adjudged to have fouled Lewis Stevenson on the edge of the penalty area. This allowed Henderson to step up and bend a superb free-kick over the wall and past the diving Jamieson.
“That’s a fantastic bit of quality to win the football match,” conceded Livingston boss Mark Burchill. “I thought the free-kick was a bit soft. But I’ve said to the guys it’s about seeing what’s happening in the football match. Lewis Stevenson coming in and shooting on his right foot, or would you want Henderson hitting a free-kick? Maybe if we’re a little bit cuter we won’t dive in as quickly.”
For a team who have picked up only one point this season, Livingston would have been forgiven for allowing the floodgates to open, but they stuck to their task and almost found a route back into the match when Declan Gallagher’s flick narrowly evaded a sliding Buchanan three yards out.
Hibs never found the chance to kill the match off and could have suffered a late embarrassment when Livingston substitutes Spas Georgiev and Jordyn Sheerin combined to release the latter inside the penalty area.
The former Musselburgh Athletic hitman took aim for goal before a timely sliding lunge by Stevenson deflected the shot over the crossbar.