Livi completed an extraordinary ‘Great Escape’ from Championship relegation as Kyle Jacobs struck a late penalty to secure victory over Queen of the South that lifted the Lions out of the bottom two.
Mark Burchill’s side went into the final day knowing a point would ensure they avoided automatic relegation but also in the knowledge that a victory would see them safe as long as Cowdenbeath didn’t win at Alloa. The Wasps’ comfortable win over Cowden, which condemned the Blue Brazil to bottom spot, set up the mother of all parties in West Lothian as survival was secured against the odds.
The Livi boss sent out the same side that had started last week’s easy win at Raith Rovers, leaving Darren Cole on the bench on his return from suspension, and they started with the intent of a side who knew what was required of them, Scott Pittman and Danny Mullen breaking into the penalty box only to see their attack broken up by Mark Durnan.
News soon came through from Recreation Park that Alloa had gone in front, which was a double-edged sword for Livi as they now knew that survival was firmly in their own hands but also that a defeat would now mean automatic relegation.
Livi were still doing all of the pressing as Queens showed little urgency and seemed more intent on avoiding any injuries ahead of their promotion play-off against Rangers. Myles Hippolyte tried his luck with a free kick from fully 35 yards but it flew straight at Zander Clark in the Queens goal.
Jason Talbot and Mullen were then on the receiving end of some hefty late challenges as the visitors tried to show more to their support, Andy Dowie and Scott Hooper ending up in ref Willie Collum’s book before Kyle followed for a foul on Hooper. That proved to be the last action of a tense first half as the two sides went in at the break goalless.
The second half got underway in similar fashion as Livi appeared torn between a gung-ho approach to achieve survival and a more conservative approach to ensure they avoided the automatic drop to League One. News of Alloa’s second goal at least meant that the Lions had only to worry about their own match with the result at Recreation Park appearing settled.
The Lions were showing more urgency as Queens continued to coast through the match and forced the first big chance of the match when Hippolyte cut inside and smashed in an effort which Clark pushed over the bar. Either side of the Queens keeper and a goal was a certainty. Queens made their first change soon after as Derek Lyle was replaced by Dean Smith before Livi followed suit when Jordan White took the place of Hippolyte.
It was becoming a game of attack v defence as Livi appeared to be leaning more towards a push for survival and Keaghan Jacobs tried his luck from long range only to see Clark tip his effort wide. Livi then had a big shout for a penalty as Mullen ran through only to be barged off the ball by Durnan but their luck turned barely three minutes later as Mullen was upended by Lewis Kidd and Collum showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot. As the home crowd, more than 2,000-strong, watched on nervously, Kyle showed balls of steel to emphatically slam the penalty high into the roof of the net and send the main stand into raptures.
At the same moment, news came through of a third Alloa goal which meant that, as long as Livi saw out the match with their lead intact, Championship survival was secure. With that in mind, Burchill sent Cole on in place of Keaghan with nine minutes left. The Livi boss then sent on Gary Glen for Pittman as the match ticked into injury time. The Lions saw out the four added minutes with ease and when the referee blew the final whistle, wild celebrations began both on the pitch and in the stand as the Lions’ incredible revival enjoyed a fairytale ending.
And so ends a difficult, nerve-shredding and, in the end, unforgettable season for Livi as Petrofac Training Cup glory was followed up by one of the greatest relegation escapes in the history of Scottish football. With seven games to go, the Lions had only 13 points on the board, were six points adrift of Alloa and trailed 2-1 against the Wasps with only two minutes to go. A late Rory Boulding strike in that game rescued a point and set the ball rolling on an extraordinary run of form that would see the Lions double their points tally in those final seven games and secure their place in the Championship for next season.
The support of the fans over those last games played a huge role in driving the team onto their incredible recent achievements, never more so than that glorious Easter Sunday at McDiarmid Park when a raucous atmosphere inspired the players to the emphatic victory that kickstarted the Lions run to survival. Everyone at the club is extremely to the fans for their efforts this season and we look forward to seeing you all, back in the Championship, next season!