Livingston have all but secured their place in the top six of the Scottish Premiership despite a late Rangers goal sealing a 1-0 away win in West Lothian.
Livi were rigid and frustrated Rangers in large spells, Light Blues boss Steven Gerrard sent off at the interval after heated words with referee John Beaton.
Fireworks, literally, ensued in the second half but the football action itself failed to spark into life. But a winner was had as Alfredo Morelos scored with three minutes to go. St Johnstone’s draw with Hamilton though means both Dundee United and St Johnstone need to win their two games pre-split to send Livi into the bottom half.
David Martindale’s men were hurting and a meeting with the Premiership winners in waiting was hardly the easiest task to bounce back from a League Cup final defeat. But to their credit, Livi were dogged and resolute throughout.
A major incident flared at the end of the first half as Morelos went tumbling in the box after goalkeeper Max Stryjek came rushing out the Livingston goal, the Colombian booked for diving. This infuriated Gerrard and Beaton didn’t hesitate to send him to the stands after the Gers manager’s furious rant at half-time.
A 0-0 draw in West Lothian earlier this season meant the Tony Macaroni Arena was the only place Rangers hadn’t won at in the Premiership this season. Signs were there that this could remain the case after Martindale’s tactical set-up was planned almost perfectly.
Granted, it wasn’t a pretty game, but Livi had condensed the midfield well via a high defensive line to limit Rangers’ lethal attacking threats. Only on a few occasions was Stryjek in the Livi net troubled while the likes of Jason Holt had half-chances for the home team.
Connor Goldson did have the ball in the net for Rangers just a few minutes after the break but it was disallowed for offside after he did well to win his aerial battle. Morelos then had the game’s first clean shot on target before another just effort went inches wide as the away team turned the heat on.
But a few half-chances and a firework stoppage later, no side was any closer to breaking the deadlock. Livingston had responded well to their League Cup pain but more hurt was to come as Morelos finally got his goal, a tap-in from a yard out just three minutes from time. Here are three things we learned from the tight affair.
Martindale got his plan for this game spot on. Eyebrows were raised when veteran midfielder Marvin Bartley was played on the left-flank at Hampden but here they looked more at home with their skipper in the middle and Craig Sibbald out wide.
They dragged Rangers into their physical game mixed with passages of passing play, something Livi’s visitors struggled to break. But it proved just too much in the end.
Bartley bounces back
Martindale’s skipper certainly deserves a mention for his display. He was immense in stopping dangerous foes like Joe Aribo, Glen Kamara and Steven Davis from getting a hold of the midfield game.
After a lung-bursting performance just 72 hours previous, the 34-year-old lead by example against Rangers.
Top six in sight
While it isn’t mathematically done and dusted, Livingston are a game closer to a top six finish for the second season in a row. Dundee United and St Johnstone’s draws in recent days mean there’s been little harm done to Livi’s push for fifth, although St Mirren in sixth now lurk a point behind.
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