Livingston boss David Martindale admits his side are now in a relation battle after injury-time heartache against Motherwell cost them a top six berth as they let a two goal lead slip against the Steelmen.
The Lions went into the final game before the split with the ability to finish the afternoon anywhere between fourth and 10th place in a riveting race for the top half.
They knew they had to win and hope either Hibs or Ross County slipped up in their respective clashes and it was all going to plan for 70 minutes with Livingston producing a tremendous display as they strolled to a 2-0 lead at the Tony Macaroni Arena.
Odin Bailey prodded home the opener on 26 minutes after he was played in behind the defense and rolled the ball past the onrushing Liam Kelly, while the winger saw his shot blocked early in the second half – with the rebound being fed to Alan Forrest by skipper Nicky Devlin with the former Ayr United man calmly finding the bottom corner.
At that point, Hibs were trailing at Hearts and County were being held away at Aberdeen. So far, so good.
Then the drama. Callum Slattery unleashed a piledriver from 25 yards out on 72 minutes that flew into the bottom corner in the blink of an eye.
Motherwell needed to point themselves to ensure they’d be in the top six and they flung everything at the Lions’ rearguard in the closing moments. Eventually, devastatingly, the pressure paid dividends in the third of four minutes of injury-time.
A hooked clearance under pressure resulted in a corner-kick from which the visitors won three consecutive phases with Bevis Mugabi rattling the bar before the rebound was bound into the net by former Livi defender Ricki Lamie to shatter the hosts’ dreams of a third successive top six finish.
Martindale said: “You’re a minute from the top six and you don’t defend your area. It’s happened on a few occasions this year to be honest. We didn’t defend our box from a set play.
“We lost a set play from basically the last kick of the ball and we’re out the top six. We lost from a set play last week against St Johnstone. I was wary of them and we had a game plan but we were in full control of most of the game.
“We looked like the team that had the impetus but it doesn’t matter what you do in the final third if you can’t defend your box.”
He added: “The player have to pick themselves up, they have no choice. We’re in a relegation battle now, let’s be honest. There’s a 15 point swing that could happen. We just need to go and pick up points. It’s a season-defining goal, let’s be honest.
“Instead of celebrating, we’re experiencing a huge negative and we’re in a relegation battle. Fair play to Scottish football because I think it’s been an exciting league this year. We now have five games to finish the best of the rest.”
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