GAME 16 – LIVINGSTON 4-1 HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN
Date: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 – 7.45pm
Venue: Almondvale Stadium, Livingston
Livingston were pre-match underdogs for this Petrofac Training Cup game, but progressed very comfortably to the quarter finals with a fine performance.
Hearts surprised everyone – especially the bookies and Livi manager John McGlynn – with a team selection which included ten changes and introduced a number of teenage debutants.
Head coach Robbie Neilson explained this approach away as ‘developmental’ at the post-match post-mortem that followed a comprehensive defeat, something which, in my opinion, was disrespectful to their opposition and the competition.
Hearts are rightly regarded as a big club by Scottish standards, but they’re far from perennial trophy winners. It seems odd to me that they feel they have the luxury of writing off a national tournament, even if it is the least prestigious of the three knock out competitions they’ll take part in this season.
I’d argue it’s easily the one they’ve got the best chance of winning, and that’s surely worth something when many players can go through their whole careers without winning any medals – even one in the Challenge Cup.
Then there’s the financial aspect – there is money to be made in the Challenge Cup for clubs that do well, both in terms of the prize fund and ‘extra’ gate receipts. As Hearts try to get back on their feet, surely an extra few quid can only be a good thing?
And for Scottish football as a whole, the financial input of Petrofac Training as the new sponsors is both much needed and very welcome. What message does it send out to them when one of the bigger clubs sends out a second string?
Neilson defended his approach by stating the benefits the young players will get from the experience of playing a competitive game in front of a decent crowd, whilst pointing out that their priority for the year will be winning promotion.
The first point I can’t really argue with – young players will only learn through experience and I’m generally all for bringing youth players through. I would question the lack of experienced players to guide them through the match though.
However, the notion that playing a midweek game at the start of the season will damage a full time team’s chances of winning the league is spurious if you ask me. Progressing to the final would only result in three additional games and the quarter finals are played on an otherwise vacant Saturday!
When I heard the Hearts line-up and failed to recognise a few names in it, my initial thought was that it was a poor show to field their kids when hard pressed supporters were paying good money to watch it.
Livingston isn’t far for most Hearts fans to travel and ticket prices were a reasonable £12, but I’d bet many of the 3,000 visiting supporters will have expected a much stronger side.
Home supporters, meanwhile, were heavily outnumbered but it’s a game we’ll remember fondly for seasons to come, caring not for the Hearts ‘excuse’ of a weakened side.
Livi and decent cup results have been a stranger in recent seasons so winning this one in style made a nice change. Last season included defeats to Motherwell and St Johnstone, both strong going Premiership clubs, but we’ve also been punted out of the cups by the likes of Annan, Berwick, Queen’s Park, Elgin City and Ayr United over the past few years.
The manner of the win was also encouraging – aside from a fifteen minute spell in the second half when Hearts pressed a bit higher up the pitch and put our defence under some pressure, we were well in control.
Jordan White scored freely for Stirling Albion last season and he produced a really good finish from a tight angle to give us a first half lead.
Later he got on the end of an excellent Kyle Jacobs run and cross to score the killer second and from there on in we cruised to a deserved victory.
Regular readers may recall that midfielder Myles Hippolyte caught my eye in pre-season, and he came off the bench to make a difference in the latter stages of this game, scoring our third with an excellent long range shot before making the fourth with a slide-rule pass for David Robertson.
Hopefully it will be enough to persuade John McGlynn to give the young Englishman a start in the upcoming League and Cup double header against Queen of the South because he definitely offers something different in an attacking sense.
It was an all round good team performance. Defensively we looked comfortable in the most part, with Callum Fordyce the pick of the rearguard for me, while we controlled the midfield with Burton O’Brien pulling the strings from his position just in front of the back four and Keaghan Jacobs adding his customary drive and energy in front of him.
The only black mark, and a minor one at that, was the late own goal scored by left back Jason Talbot when he misjudged an innocuous cross from the Hearts left and knocked it into the net rather than out for a corner.
It’s been a decent start to the season overall, with Hibs inflicting the only defeat in five games to date. That was thanks, in part, to a freak goal by their goalkeeper and I thought we should have had a draw after dominating the second half.
So we look in good shape on the field at the moment – long may it continue.
Scoring: 1-0 White (6), 2-0 White (76), 3-0 Hippolyte (81), 4-0 Robertson (84), 4-1 Talbot OG (90)
Attendance: 3807 (official)
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