Moments of 2018: Livingston hit the big time
3 years ago little Livingston were in the third tier of Scottish football, now they find themselves comfortably in the Premiership. In our next moment of 2018, Adam Mackintosh looks at how the Livi Lions reached the big time.
In January 2016, David Hopkin was appointed the Livingston manager on a permanent basis. Fast forward almost two and a half years and his side stood on the brink of a remarkable achievement. They were one game from promotion to the Scottish Premiership on one of the smallest budgets in the second tier.
Livingston qualified for the playoffs after finishing second in the Championship, 12 points behind champions St Mirren. This, in itself, was a fine achievement as they were only newly promoted to the league. Their success built on a strong defence and goals from throughout the team. One of their top scorers, club captain Craig Halkett, was one of Livi’s key players scoring seven league goals from centre back and forming part of a formidable central defensive trio in Hopkin’s favoured 3-5-2 formation.
After beating Dundee United in the playoff semi-final, the team that stood between them and a Premiership place was Partick Thistle. They finished 11th in the Premiership, avoiding automatic relegation on the final day with an away win at Dundee. Thistle took the lead through Kris Doolan who scored after just ten minutes. It took just three minutes for Livi to equalise through Scott Pittman exemplifying the fighting spirit that was so key to their success. They made sure that they would take a lead to Maryhill when Keaghan Jacobs scored from close range with just over 15 minutes to play.
It all came down to the last game of the domestic Scottish football season, with Livingston taking a 2-1 lead to Firhill. In a nervy opening half, clear-cut chances were few and far between as Thistle struggled to break down a dogged Livi defence. The best chance of the half fell to Blair Spittal but the midfielder’s shot from the edge of the box was saved well by Neil Alexander in the Livingston goal. As things stood, Livingston were just 45 minutes of football from completing an outstanding feat, back-to-back promotions.
Less than a minute into the second half, Livi made the breakthrough. A long throw into the box fell to Shaun Byrne who laid it off to Jacobs who found the bottom corner from the edge of the box. The goal sparked wild celebrations in the away end as they knew that Thistle needed two goals to take the game to extra time. For the rest of the game, Livingston did what they do best, defend. They conceded very few chances and the Premiership side just simply couldn’t find a way through. Partick Thistle had late chance to salvage some pride but Conor Sammon’s late penalty summed up their day, a meek effort saved easily by Neil Alexander.
Just minutes later, Livingston’s promotion was confirmed. A team who could only name six substitutes for the second leg, a team built on a shoe string budget with a manager who was in his first managerial job, but in the end, it was the Livi lions that roared.