IN THE stands, the game started with a bang, several of them to be precise, as flares and bangers punctured the atmosphere and led to the culprits being constrained by a chain of stewards and police. The explosions may have prompted a few frights among fellow supporters but it takes more than that to unsettle a Livingston side with nothing to lose.
Scorers: Livingston - Hippolyte (46); Rangers - Zaliukas (49)
They have proved that they don’t scare easily. Docked five points due to mismanagement off the field, on the pitch Mark Burchill’s men have shown steely resolve.
Stranded at the foot of the Championship table since November, they went into last night’s match aware that they could edge into the play-off place in ninth place, giving them the opportunity to begin snapping away at the heels of Cowdenbeath in eighth place in the final three games of the regular campaign.
Until the Petrofac Cup final at the start of this month, they were a side devoid of a victory since they had thumped Dumbarton at the end of January.
Crucially, though, the three draws they had mustered in that time came against relegation rivals Alloa and against last night’s opponents, Rangers. Those points proved vital in keeping tabs on the teams above them and having followed up that silverware success with wins over Falkirk and then Cowdenbeath, their season suddenly offered far more promise than looked likely at the turn of the year, even if the run-in pits them against Hibs, Raith Rovers and then Queen of the South.
With that in mind, they made it clear they were not going to lie down to Stuart McCall’s men, who still have ambitions of their own as they attempt to overthrow the challenge of Hibs to finish the term in second place, and then use that springboard to gain passage back to the top flight in the all-or-nothing promotion play-offs.
A hungrier and sturdier proposition since McCall took over, they still lack the invincibility and consistency to put opponents on edge and that was obvious in the first half as the home side matched them, testing their rearguard and also holding firm as the likes of Haris Vuckic poked and prodded, trying to find a way through. When he wasn’t the one having a crack at Darren Jamieson’s goal, he was the guy supplying the ammunition for Kenny Miller and Nicky Clark. But, throughout that opening 45 minutes, the Ibrox side fired blanks.
It was Livingston who appeared to have scored six minutes into the match. Cammy Bell failed to collect a high ball and, although he tried to get to the loose ball, he was unable to gather before Myles Hippolyte struck it into the net. But the officials determined the goalkeeper had been fouled as he tried to pluck the initial delivery out the air and refused to award the goal.
There were chances at both ends as domination proved tricky. Vuckic was the man most likely but he couldn’t do enough to get the goal needed to appease their own support and rattle the home team. And he was lucky to escape punishment when he showed some desperation trying to aid his defence, elbowing Jason Talbot in the face in full view of the referee, who awarded a free kick but brandished no card.
That proved both teams were fully aware that they have something to battle for, albeit at different ends of the Championship. That gulf in points and league standings was not evident for most of the game and, as the second half got underway to the soundtrack of more bangers being let off it was Livingston who again made the bigger noise. It was Hippolyte who found the net just two minutes after the restart and that one, from a well-executed free kick, counted.
But, three minutes later, Rangers responded with a set-piece goal of their own. It was Vuckic who was again the orchestrator, sending in a delivery which was headed on by Marius Zaliukas and into the corner of the Livingston ’keeper’s net. That fired up the away side, who suddenly showed more urgency, swarming all over Livingston, who simply had to ride the blows and wait for the frenzied pressure to abate.
But, by the time Livingston had regained some composure, and Scott Pittman had forced a save from Bell in the 70th minute, McCall decided he needed to shake things up again, replacing both his front men as he tried to convey the importance of taking all three points.
Rangers failed to do so but still went clear of Hibs in second place but by a solitary point.
For Livingston, though, it wasn’t enough to lift them off bottom spot but it keeps alive their hopes of a miracle escape from automatic relegation and proves they have the heart for the battle.
Livingston: Jamieson, Fordyce, Gallacher, Cole, Talbot, Keaghan Jacobs, O’Brien, Kyle Jacobs, Hippolyte (Glen 80), White (Boulding 88), Pittman (Mullen 86). Subs not used: Walker, Boulding, Beaumont, Sekajja, Donaldson.
Rangers: Bell, McGregor, Mcculloch, Zalikas, Wallace, Murdoch, Shiels (Walsh 80), Vuckic, Law, Miller (Boyd 73), Clark (Hardie 73). Subs not used: Robinson, Moshni, Black, Crawford, Walsh.
Referee: G Aitken