It’s been a frustrating few weeks as a Livingston fan. After a fantastic performance and victory over Celtic at the start of October, things were looking up for the Lions who had lost all four of their matches in September.
Gary Holt’s side were beaten 2-1 by a well-drilled Kilmarnock side, and were then held to a 0-0 draw at home to Hearts the following week. Killie probably deserved their win, but, against the Jambos, Livi will feel hard done by as they were denied what looked like a clear penalty before Aymen Souda was questionably sent off.
Despite that, Livingston managed to battle with ten men for the majority of the second half and kept a clean sheet. Four days later, they faced the other Edinburgh outfit, Hibernian, at Easter Road. On paper this was a tough one, with Hibs desperate for a victory after an extremely poor start under Paul Heckingbottom.
Although they’d started the season terribly, the Hibees have a squad assembled with a far greater budget than Livi’s. But, at half time the Lions led 2-0 and looked comfortable before throwing away the lead. Again, another poor decision arguably cost the side as Scott Allan appeared to dive for his penalty that he dually tucked away, before Martin Boyle broke the travelling support’s hearts with a last-minute equaliser.
In hindsight, a point at Easter Road is a very good result but, in the circumstances, it really should’ve been all three. Up next was another difficult away day, against high-flying Motherwell, who have probably been the ‘best of the rest’ at this point in the season. It was another frustrating 90 minutes as despite playing well, Livingston came away with nothing to show for it.
The Steelmen were fortunate with both goals; one an error from goalkeeper Matija Sarkic, and the other a blocked shot which fell kindly for Allan Campbell, but they found a way to win and that’s one of very few criticisms of the Lions this season, who have shown that they are more than good enough to stay clear of relegation trouble for another year.
It’s been a mixed start for the West Lothian side, who sit 7th with 13 points from 12 games. They are one point off Ross County who occupy the last top six slot, but only lie five points clear of bottom of the league St Mirren. With two tough games coming up in Rangers and Celtic, the Lions may be looking down rather than up.
On Sunday, Livingston welcome Rangers to the Tony Macaroni Arena with Steven Gerrard’s side sitting joint top of the Premiership with Celtic and only goal difference separates the fierce rivals. With Neil Lennon’s side suffering a defeat in West Lothian already this season, the Gers will be looking to come away with maximum points at a tough venue, where they were beaten once last campaign.
Since that 1-0 defeat in September 2018, Rangers have won all four meetings with the Lions, twice at Ibrox and twice in Livingston. Two of those victories came this season, the first a 3-1 win in Govan. Livi took the lead through a Steven Lawless penalty and caused the hosts all sorts of problems, creating several chances at 1-1, but Gerrard’s side fought back to win all three points.
Eleven days later, it was Livingston’s turn to host, this time in the BetFred Cup Quarter Final. Glen Kamara put Rangers in front after just five minutes, but the Lions battled hard and more than matched the Glasgow club despite losing 1-0 on the night. Filip Helander was lucky to be on the pitch after a cynical foul on Lyndon Dykes, who caused the Swede, and defensive partner Connor Goldson, all sorts of problems.
Dykes, who caused the same problems against Celtic’s centre halves Kristoffer Ajer and Christopher Jullien, has been sidelined with injury, his last appearance coming in Livingston’s trip to Rugby Park. If the Australian is fit, he needs to start because he’s been an absolute handful for defenders with his strength, pace and power.
Gary Holt will still be without Nicky Devlin, who is a big miss in defence, but the signing of Aaron Taylor-Sinclair could provide cover in the full back areas. Rangers could be leggy after their Europa League encounter with Porto on Thursday, which may play into Livingston’s hand.
If the Lions can repeat their performance against Celtic, then Rangers will need to be at their best if they are to take all three points. Livi must be at the top of their game if they want anything from it. Repeating the below-par defensive showings against Hamilton and Kilmarnock will be a recipe for disaster and could result in a thrashing.
I am quietly confident for this one though. This is typically a match we raise our level for; in front of the TV cameras, against a big side, with nothing to lose. Nobody expects Livingston to get anything from the match, they are capable however their season won’t depend on results against Rangers and Celtic. It’s essentially a free-hit. The Lions can go into the game with nothing to lose and use the underdog mentality that has proven so successful over the last few years.
I am going to be positive, and perhaps stupid, and predict a 1-0 victory for the Lions, repeating last season’s heroics. It’s a long shot and will require a lot of hard work and maybe some luck along the way, but on their day, this Livingston side can beat anyone.
*ODDS SUBJECT TO CHANGE