With 4th place clinched and a playoff to come, which it turns out will be against Rangers, there had been speculation all week about how many changes James Fowler would make for this game which was still crucial to Livingston. In the end the answer was five, though one of those was to restore first choice keeper Zander Clark to the line up after mssing last week through illness. Elsewhere, left back Kevin Holt, one booking from a suspension, was kept on the bench along with Gavin Reilly who had a minor knock whilst Stephen McKenna and Danny Carmichael had a rest too. That meant a rare start for Scott Hooper at right back, returns to the starting eleven for Kidd and Paton and a first ever start for 17 year old Aidan Smith as Derek Lyle`s partner up top.
Smith is foiled by keeper Jamieson
To be honest this was a match very short on goalmouth action. The first half was really just a succession of fouls awarded by referee Willie Collum as it threatened to turn bad tempered on several occasions. Most of the ill feeling was down our right side where Michael Paton and Paul Talbot were fighting a running battle, as were Mark Durnan and Danny Mullen whilst Scott Hooper and Myles Hippolyte threatened to spark up too on a couple of occasions. Both sides were guilty of leaving a late foot in on several occasions, Durnan was fortunate to get away with an off the ball barge on Mullen after a particularly late challenge and Hooper was eventually booked for running across Hippolyte to check his run whilst the Livi fans bayed for a red card, convinced an elbow was used (if it was then it must have been very subtle because it was right in front of me and I didn`t see it). In the midst of this Andy Dowie was particularly unlucky to be booked for a fairly innocuous challenge on Steve Pitman. It`s not even certain it was a foul never mind a booking but he was unlucky with the timing in that it came on the end of a run of meaty challenges and Mr Collum had clearly decided it was time to book the next one. Before half time Kyle Jacobs also found his name in the book for going in late on Hooper. However there wasn`t a shot of note and neither keeper had a save to make in the opening 45 minutes.
Hooper put in an impressive display
At half time, on a booking and mindful of his importance in the playoffs, Player of the Year Dowie was withdrawn and replaced with Jake Pickard. That meant a reshuffle with Hooper moving into centre half alongside Durnan and Lewis Kidd dropping into right back. Early in the second period Aidan Smith escaped down the right side and burst into the penalty area. The youngster was keen to test Darren Jamieson from a narrow angle and his powerful shot was turned away for a corner. At the other end soon after Zander Clark was called into action for the first time as he tipped Hippolyte`s effort over his crossbar.
Derek Lyle had been given an hour to try to add to his goal tally for the season but hadn`t had any joy at all so around the hour mark he was given a rest and replaced with Dean Smith. Dean went to the right side with Michael Paton switching wings and Iain Russell moving up top alongside Aidan. The teams continued to more or less cancel one another out though with Ian McShane clipping a 25 yard free kick just over the bar. The goal that settled the game though arrived in controversial circumstances with just 12 minutes to go. A hopeful ball forward towards Danny Mullen saw the winger take possession and move across the penalty area, away from goal where he was challenged near the edge of the box by Lewis Kidd. There appeared to be very little contact with the Livingston man but he went to ground and Mr Collum was convinced enough to point to the penalty spot. Kyle Jacobs was the man who stepped forward for the crucial kick with this team`s fate resting on his shoulders. He made no mistake, firing high into the net and giving Zander Clark no chance.
Livingston Captain Talbot can`t bear to watch as Jacobs gives Clark no chance with the spot kick
It was a goal which would keep Livingston up without the need for playoffs if they could hold on to the lead so it was no surprised they immediately withdrew an attacking midfielder in Keaghan Jacobs and replaced him with another centre half in Darren Cole. At the same time James Fowler played his final card and sent on Danny Carmichael in place of Russell. If truth be told though the final ten minutes passed with little incident and Queens never looked like scoring an equaliser. The nearest we came to another goal was when Mullen nearly made it safe in injury time. There was still time for Ian McShane to pick up a booking in the third minute of injury time before Mr Collum brought thigs to a close to jubilation in the home stands and dug out. So we`ll be back at Livingston next season unless we can win promotion ourselves. The road to that lies through Rangers, Hibernian and, almost certainly, Motherwell. It starts next weekend so lets fill Palmerston and see if we can`t rock Rangers for a third time on our own surface.