Livi breathed new life into their survival fight as Danny Mullen bagged a double to secure a crucial three points at home to Falkirk.
The Petrofac Cup winners knew victory was near-essential as they went into the match six points adrift of Alloa, albeit with a game in hand, and boss Mark Burchill went with the same starting XI that had kicked off Sunday’s showpiece with the aim of continuing the momentum gained from their comfortable victory.
Falkirk have ambitions of their own to fulfil with three points vital for them as they look to beat Queen of the South to the final promotion play-off position and it was they who made the brighter start, enjoying the lion’s share of possession, albeit without posing the Livi goal too much threat.
Their early pressure was all to no avail though as it was the buoyant Lions who made the all-important breakthrough on nine minutes. A tremendous cross from the right-hand side by Callum Fordyce took the Bairns defence completely out of the game and Mullen was on to it in a flash to slam the ball past Jamie McDonald. It was a dream start from Livi and, as they looked to build on it, there were strong claims for a penalty as Myles Hippolyte was dragged to the floor as he looked to get on the end of a Fordyce cross but ref Euan Anderson, who was to endure a forgettable night, was unmoved by the Lions appeals.
Falkirk were still waiting for their first clear sight of goal and, when they were handed the chance by ref Anderson with a free kick just outside the box, Will Vaulks could only send his effort into the wall. Livi countered quickly but Peter Grant was alert to the danger and cleared for Falkirk. There was an absurd incident moments later as a strong Kyle Jacobs tackle resulted in a throw to Falkirk. Vaulks reacted angrily to the challenge and lashed out at Kyle but referee Anderson inexplicably showed a yellow card to both players.
Livi forced a half-chance as a low ball trundled across the box but Fordyce couldn’t get the ball under control and the experienced David McCracken was able to clear. The Lions were then awarded a free kick just outside the box for a foul on Mullen, with Hippolyte stepping up to fire an effort inches over the crossbar.
Just as it looked like Livi were going to make it to half-time in front, a mistimed challenge from Fordyce on Craig Sibbald left the referee with little option but to the spot. John Baird stepped up and drilled in a low effort which squeezed under the dive of Darren Jamieson to send the teams in at the break all square.
Livi started the second half very brightly and almost regained their lead within 60 seconds of the restart as Scott Pittman fired in a low shot which Mullen flicked inches wide of the post. Having started so brightly, Livi nearly shot themselves in the foot as Darren Cole underhit a backpass and Baird beat Jamieson to the ball only to fire his shot against the post and wide with the goal at his mercy. Livi went up the other end and Kyle had the ball in the net only for the goal to be disallowed for an alleged foul by Mullen on McDonald.
It was only a brief let-off for the visitors though as Livi regained the lead with their next attack. Hippolyte launched a long throw into the box which was flicked on for Mullen to nod the ball into the far corner and restore the Lions’ advantage. Falkirk responded by making their first change, David Smith replacing Alex Cooper, before Pittman picked up a yellow card for blocking a quick Falkirk free kick. A second Bairns change followed soon after as Mark Kerr made way for Taylor Morgan.
Cole was the next into the referee’s book in yet another bizarre incident as Livi won a throw and the ex-Rangers man appeared to be booked for not taking it. Livi made their first change soon after as goal hero Mullen made way for Jordan White. Jason Talbot was then booked for a clumsy challenge on the left hand side before Hippolyte followed him in soon after for holding on to the ball.
The Bairns were growing frustrated with Livi’s shrewdly-employed delaying tactics but it’s hard to imagine that they would be doing anything differently had they been in the Lions’ position. Boss Mark Burchill withdrew Hippolyte soon after, sending Gary Glen on in his place.
Unbelievably, the Jacobs-Vaulks incident in the first half was to be repeated in the second as Morgan took exception to being eased off the ball by Declan Gallagher and decided to chase after the Livi man and push him in the chest. Incredulously, yellow cards were shown to both players once again!
A memorable night for the Lions was given an added boost when, eight months after joining the club, Brad Donaldson finally made his first appearance for the top team after battling back from an awful run of illness and injuries as he took the place of Pittman. There was nearly cause to regret that late change as Jamieson pulled up with a hamstring injury deep in added time but fortunately for Livi he was able to see out the final few seconds.
The final whistle followed soon after to spark joyous celebrations among the home support as they hailed a victory which could be the first step on the road to an extraordinary ‘great escape’, with the Lions now just three points behind Alloa, still with a game in hand. The big games keep coming thick and fast for Livi though as they make the short trip across the Forth to take on relegation rivals Cowdenbeath on Saturday. We all saw the impact a big, noisy support could have on the team at McDiarmid Park last weekend so it would be great to see a large following make the trip to Central Park.