Hearts 0-0 Livingston: Visitors hold firm as Hearts miss a beat

Still unbeaten and still top of the table but Hearts allowed their rivals to make up some ground on them as they were held to a goalless draw in front of a frustrated home support.

Steven Naismith had a first half penalty saved by Liam Kelly in the Livingston goal. Picture: SNS Group

And if the new signings needed a reminder of the demands at the capital club, the fact they left the pitch to the sound of their fans’ booing will have rammed that message home.

Craig Levein’s side remain unbeaten but the draw sullies their 100 per cent record and it was the part they played in their own downfall that will irritate most.

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Up against a newly-promoted Livingston side who have now recorded four clean sheets from their first six matches and sit in third place, level on points with Hibernian, who have a better goal difference, the onus was on the home team to find a way through. But against a well-organised and defiant line-up they needed to be at their clinical best and they weren’t.

Hearts boss Craig Levein was frustrated that his team failed to find the net. Picture: SNS Group

Twice they hit the bar and sandwiched in between those opportunities was a penalty miss from the league’s top goalscorer Steven Naismith, who stepped up when Steven MacLean was felled by Ricki Lamie but saw his strike to Liam Kelly’s right saved by the keeper.

That was on the final action of a first half that had stymied Hearts to such an extent that Levein was drawn down into the technical area from the directors’ box for the first time since his heart scare last month as he tried to extol his players to cut out the sloppy self-harming and start moving the ball more quickly to evade the close attentions of their determined visitors.

As soon as he was down in the technical area he told winger Callumn Morrison to get warmed up and early in the second half he sent him on, taking Ben Garuccio off and switching the more attack-minded Demi Mitchell, who had started the match cutting in from the right wing, to the more familiar left-back berth. It allowed the Gorgie outfit to make more advances and push Gary Holt’s men back but Livingston are a side well-versed in absorbing pressure and playing to their own strengths, with the likes of Craig Halkett and Declan Gallagher unflinching and uncompromising as they repelled the league leaders.

Not that there was much of a cutting edge to the home side, as they failed to find the right final pass, dwelt on the ball too long and struggled to find any penetration minus the major focal point of Uche Ikpeazu, who was still struggling with the after effects of his challenge with Motherwell keeper Trevor Carson in last weekend’s meeting.

Kelly is hailed by his team mates after beating away Naismith's effort. Picture: SNS Group

In his place Hearts had given young Craig Wighton his first start, with the experienced MacLean and Naismith charged with backing him up. But the best Hearts chance of the first half came from the head of Jimmy Dunne, who rose to meet an Olly Lee set-piece delivery into the box. There was anguish in the home ranks as the effort crashed off the crossbar, though.

Clearcut openings were at a premium at both ends as Livingston chased down every loose ball and harried Hearts every time they took possession and rather than learn their lesson, the home side struggled to put a bit more zip into their play and could have been undone as the West Lothian side staged a breakaway in the 55th minute.

Dolly Menga and Scott Pittman were 2-on-1 with Michael Smith and had the forward linked up with Pittman a fraction sooner or played the pass in front of his team-mate, the visitors may have left with all three points. But a poorly weighted pass was slightly behind and that allowed Zdenek Zlamal the split second needed to dart off his line and make the block.

It was a similar piece of profligacy to the Hearts counterattack towards the end of the first half, when Wighton, with Naismith and Mitchell to his right, opted for a pass to MacLean on his left but it was too weak and allowed Livi to intercept.

Mitchell also had a drive that looked to be heading on target blocked by the head of Pittman.

With time running out, Hearts captain John Souttar sent a cross into the box which gave MacLean a chance to nick the win but he was also denied by the bar.