Hibernian tighten grip on top-six spot with victory at Livingston
Hibernian moved a step closer to cementing their top-six status in the Ladbrokes Premiership with a deserved 2-0 win over Livingston.
Second-half strikes from Paul Hanlon and man of the match Stevie Mallan were enough to see off the determined hosts in a hard-fought clash in West Lothian.
The triumph means Hibs head coach Paul Heckingbottom has now picked up 16 points from a possible 18 in the league since taking charge, catapulting the capital club up to fifth spot.
They are seven points clear of seventh-placed St Johnstone and above Hearts for the first time all season – albeit having played a game more than both sides ahead of Saturday’s fixtures.
Livingston were dealt a hammer blow when Craig Halkett was ruled out prior to kick-off – he failed to recover from a leg injury sustained in training.
Hakeem Odoffin was handed the onerous task of filling the club captain’s boots.
Hibs, meanwhile, made just one change from the side that claimed a comfortable victory against Motherwell prior to the international break as Darren McGregor replaced Vykintas Slivka in the starting line-up.
Heckingbottom’s men were seeking to avoid the fate of their city rivals, Hearts, who succumbed to a humbling 5-0 defeat in West Lothian in Livi’s last Friday night fixture.
That triumph in December remains their biggest ever top-flight victory.
And the visitors exploded from the blocks.
Some superb hold-up play on the edge of the box by Marc McNulty allowed Mallan to take possession and unleash a ferocious drive, only for Liam Kelly to produce a stunning fingertip save.
Livingston were next to threaten when a deep cross found Craig Sibbald, who showed excellent composure to cut inside the box before losing his cool when it counted and lashing his shot wildly over the bar.
Former Livingston youngster McNulty, fresh from winning two caps for Scotland, was superb in the opening exchanges and delivered a superb through ball for Flo Kamberi.
However, his strike partner blasted wide from a tight angle.
That proved as close as either side would come as the first half descended into a war of attrition peppered with aerial bombardments.
Hibs finally breached the stubborn resistance of the hosts after 70 minutes when a Mallan corner-kick was flicked on by David Gray for Hanlon to lash home from point-blank range.
The visitors swiftly doubled their advantage and once again Mallan was pivotal.
Lewis Stevenson found the former St Mirren man in the box and, after neatly evading the challenge of Declan Gallagher, he clinically slotted the ball beyond Kelly.
Livingston refused to throw in the towel and pulled on back in stoppage time when Ryan Hardie converted a penalty after Steve Lawson had been fouled by Stevenson.
However, Hibs held firm for the three points.