Livingston 1-2 Hibernian: Stevie Mallan winner sends Hibs fifth

Paul Hanlon nets the opening goal for Hibs

Stevie Mallan netted a superb winner as Hibernian beat Livingston to move above Hearts for the first time this season in the Scottish Premiership.

Hibs defender Paul Hanlon sparked a dull match to life in 71 minutes, lashing home following a corner.

And Mallan skinned Declan Gallagher to add a classy second before Ryan Hardie netted an injury-time penalty for Livi.

Hibs, who replace Hearts in fifth, are now unbeaten in the league under Paul Heckingbottom after six games.

They remain well on course for a top-six finish with two games to play before the split, having collected 16 points out of 18 since Heckingbottom took charge.

Livi stay ninth and have won just two of their last 13 Premiership matches.

Quick Hibs strikes settle it

The Livingston drummer ensured there was a decent atmosphere at kick-off but it was the Hibs fans who were almost in full voice after just two minutes.

Marc McNulty did well to control a long ball upfield and knock it into the path of the advancing Mallan. The midfielder took a touch and fired in an effort that was tipped over brilliantly by Liam Kelly.

The home side responded well and good work down the left by Chris Erskine set up Craig Sibbald who blasted high ad wide.

After the energetic start the game deteriorated into a series of long hopeful balls with very little creativity from either midfield.

Just before the break, though, slack play by Florian Kamberi gave the home side an opportunity. As the Swiss striker tried to ease a ball out of play in the corner, Hakeem Odoffin slipped in and played a neat cross into the box that Hanlon sliced away for a corner.

The opening 20 minutes of the second half were poor, prompting both managers to make changes, and it was the visitors who eventually found the breakthrough.

From a corner on the left David Gray clipped a header towards goal that was blocked and fellow defender Hanlon was first to pounce, hammering the ball into the roof of the net.

Moments later the Easter Road side snatched a second. Mallan’s wonderful touch inside the box took him away from Gallagher and the midfielder slipped a shot past Kelly from a tight angle.

Livi almost pulled one back when Ofir Marciano tipped over Sibbald’s net-bound header. And Hardie also came close with a shot that whistled the wrong side of Marciano’s goal.

Hardie did pull one back when Steve Lawson was bundled to the ground by Lewis Stevenson. Hardie sent the goalkeeper the wrong way with the spot-kick but Hibs held on for the points.

Heckingbottom’s changes key – analysis

It was a game that for 70 minutes looked set to as a dour goalless draw, but credit must be given to Hibs boss Heckingbottom for the changes he made.

Throwing Vykintas Slivka and Fraser Murray on gave the visitors more of a physical presence in the middle of the park.

Hibs have recovered their early-season form and the fans can look forward to their final seven games with optimism.

The loss of skipper Craig Halkett through injury was a pre-match blow to Livingston boss Gary Holt such has been the influence of the in-demand defender. But they still showed in spells they can end the season on a high.

Holt will be working feverishly over the next few months to find replacements for his key men who will leave the club at the end of the season. But trying to find players with the same work ethos will be a difficult job.

‘We had to up the tempo’

Hibs manager Paul Heckingbottom: “It was hard to watch at times and it’s easy to to see why Livingston have been such a tough nut to crack at home this season.

“They made it difficult for us and stopped us playing the way we wanted to. We had to up the tempo and then the game becomes a lot easier. We’re always chasing the team in front and we’ve gone up another place.”

Livingston manager Holt: “We created the better chances but goals changes games. To be undone by that first goal is really poor. Those are the things you work against.”

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