Before claiming the triumph should have been even more emphatic, DAVIE MARTINDALE saw his side replicate Livingston’s record win over Hibernian.
Since Martindale took the helm in November at the Tony Macaroni Arena, the Lions have won seven in a row, five in the Premier League, conceding just two goals.
The win was perhaps the most impressive of the series as they dominated a side with European aspirations from start to finish on their own turf, with the deciding factor being goals from Josh Mullin, Jon Guthrie and Scott Robinson.
Throughout the week, the hosts were bad – not exactly the response to their loss to Ross County – and could barely warm the palms of visiting keeper Max Stryjek as their home woes continued.
There were only three wins in 11 games at Easter Lane.
“I thought the guys were great and the gameplan worked perfectly,” praised Martindale. “We could have scored a few more goals with a little more cleverness in the final third and more attention to the ball.
“There is enormous momentum. It makes my job a lot easier, and I was a little worried that this would be affected by the midweek postponement [against Aberdeen]-but the boys picked up where they left off.
Before kick-off, Ross had to deal with a big setback as goalkeeper Ofir Marciano, who was due to make his return after two games, was ruled out after complaining in the warm-up about calf pain.
For his third starting appearance, Dillon Barnes was replaced, while 36-year-old coach Craig Samson took a spot among the substitutes. And after just nine minutes, Barnes picked the ball out of his net. Robinson played a fine through pass to Mullin, who got in behind the lethargic Lewis Stevenson and hit the bottom corner with a lovely low shot.
On 16 minutes, Livingston deservedly took a double lead when Barnes deflected a Mullin corner kick poorly, resulting in a massive scuffle in the goalmouth – before Guthrie pulled the trigger from close range resolutely.
Before Barnes saved the ball with his fingertips just before the half-time break, Mullin, who was excellent, shot just wide of target again.
Since he joined the club, Josh has been brilliant,” Martindale continued. “He has added imagination and I think his passing with his right foot is second to none. At Rangers, maybe James Tavernier is better, but beyond that? ”
Remarkably, after the break, things got worse as the defensive efforts of the Hibs graduated from pathetic to comical.
As they tried to clear a simple ball, Ryan Porteous and Paul Hanlon seemed to have the situation under control, but the duo somehow managed to steal Robinson’s ball and slip it past Barnes and into the goal.
Tinny, whistled cheers from fans of Easter Road were starting to look absurd.
Livingston was closer to a fourth goal than Hibs were to take one back, with Barnes having to keep out Jason Holt’s low shot and replace Julien Serrano shooting from an acute angle narrowly outside of goal. But even without the extra sparkle, in 2001 and 2005, Livi matched previous 3-0 wins over the Hibees.
“We didn’t do all facets of the game well enough,” said a beaten coach Jack Ross bluntly. “It’s not a reason to worry because we played a good season overall.
“[But] it’s a key moment for us. Do we want to let the season slide or do we want to accomplish what we set out to do this season?”