Hearts vs Livingston. Scottish Premiership.
Match report as Michael Smith, Liam Boyce and Alex Cochrane give Hearts comfortable victory; Robbie Neilson's side a point behind Rangers and leapfrog Hibernian into second; Livingston in 10th on four points after fifth defeat of the season
Monday 27 September 2021 12:11, UK
Hearts climbed above Edinburgh rivals Hibernian into second in the Scottish Premiership table with an emphatic 3-0 victory over Livingston.
The Gorgie outfit dominated throughout and went in at the break in front courtesy of a Michael Smith strike and a Liam Boyce penalty.
Livingston improved slightly after the interval but Robbie Neilson’s side added a third through Alex Cochrane to ensure they remain only a point behind leaders Rangers at the summit.
The hosts began the game without John Souttar after the defender picked up a knock in training. That meant Taylor Moore kept his place in the side, despite the return of Smith.
Livingston manager Davie Martindale opted for an attacking line-up after naming both Andrew Shinnie and Odin Bailey in attack in a 4-4-2 formation.
As expected Hearts saw plenty of the ball during the early exchanges but came up against a well-drilled Livingston defensive wall that was difficult to penetrate.
The home side had a chance to test Max Stryjek in the 24th minute when Barrie McKay earned a free-kick just outside the box but Stephen Kingsley – who notched a stunning set-piece in last weekend’s draw at Ross County – hit the wall with his effort.
But Hearts stormed ahead a minute later when Smith finished off a flowing move. McKay spun away from Adam Lewis and crossed for Cochrane, who laid a first-time pass back to the defender.
Smith then curled a first-time left-footed drive high into the corner of the net from 12 yards.
Hearts had their tails up and went searching for a second. It arrived in the 33rd minute from Boyce from the penalty spot.
Beni Baningime was clipped by Ben Williamson inside the area and Northern Ireland forward Boyce made no mistake from 12 yards, sending Stryjek the wrong way.
Stryjek at least made a morale-boosting save before the half was out, palming a fizzed half-volley from Smith over his bar.
Livingston brought on Stephane Omeonga and Jackson Longridge at half-time but it was Hearts that continued to press.
And after Stryjek pulled off an excellent save to keep out a Kingsley free-kick, Cochrane made it three in the 65th minute.
McKay fired a low cross straight across the box and the on-loan Brighton man was left with a simple tap-in at the back post.
Hearts manager Robbie Neilson: "Barrie's performance was the reason we brought him here. We've got Barry, Gary Mackay-Steven, Ben Woodburn, Jamie Walker and Josh Ginnelly, so that keeps everyone fresh and ready to go. He did well.
"Cammy's another piece in the jigsaw; he's 23, he's got energy, pace, mobility and he can deal with the ball.
"I was really pleased with the way we played. We've been like that in the majority of games we've played this season. Today was a day that the majority of things we've been working on came to fruition.
"Livingston have had tough games - Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday, against Celtic, Rangers and Hearts.
"So we knew it would be important to bring energy that would allow us to dominate the game. I think we've a decent squad here now. All in all, it's been a good day."
Livingston manager David Martindale: "It was a tough one, I'm not going to sit here and tell lies.
"I think you could see that the last two games have caught up on us. I'm not using that as an excuse but I think it played a big part in how we approached the game.
"We were very passive and quite lethargic and we gave away possession too easily. I don't think it comes down to attitude, I think we were lethargic and we were quite passive out of possession, which isn't a Livingston performance.
"We didn't get a chance to put pressure on the ball in the mid-third, which gave Hearts too much time on the ball and they kept moving us. You're running about and chasing shadows."
Hearts welcome Motherwell in the Scottish Premiership next Saturday, while Livingston play host to St Mirren on the same day.