Kilmarnock leave it late to beat Livingston


Kilmarnock left it late to claim a crucial 1-0 victory over Livingston in the Scottish Premiership at Rugby Park.

The visitors failed to convert a number of chances in the first half against their out-of-sorts hosts and they were punished at the death.

Substitute Kevin van Veen was the provider, knocking the ball across goal for Marley Watkins to bundle home two minutes from time.

Killie strengthened their grip on fourth spot after winning their first league match of the year, while Livingston’s miserable winless run has stretched to 17, meaning they remain six points adrift at the foot of the table.

Greg Stewart was handed his first start for Kilmarnock and Liam Donnelly replaced Liam Polworth as Derek McInnes made two changes to the team that drew with Motherwell four days earlier.

Livingston made four changes as they looked to taste victory in the Premiership for the first time since October.

Tete Yengi started in the Premiership for the first time, while Daniel MacKay, Steven Bradley and Michael Nottingham all returned to the side.

KILMARNOCK, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 07: Livingston's Michael nottingham goes close with a header f during a cinch Premiership match between Kilmarnock and Livingston at Rugby Park, on February 07, 2024, in Kilmarnock, Scotland. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
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Livingston’s Michael Nottingham went close for his side

Bradley had a weak early shot from distance smothered by Will Dennis, while Kyle Vassell blazed high and wide of the target at the other end.

The visitors passed up a good opportunity after 20 minutes when Nottingham rose to meet Bradley’s free-kick, though his header sailed harmlessly into the arms of the Killie keeper.

It required an important intervention from Jamie Brandon to turn Stuart Findlay’s dangerous cross behind for a corner – but the home supporters were growing increasingly frustrated at the laboured tempo of their team.

Livingston had the ball in the net six minutes before the break after MacKay raced on to Yengi’s defence-splitting pass and rolled the ball home, only to have his celebrations cut short by the offside flag.

On the stroke of half-time, Scott Pittman curled an effort just wide with Dennis scrambling and Yengi then prodded wide after being brilliantly set free by Bradley.

The home fans voiced their displeasure at the end of the first half and McInnes reacted by making a double change at the break. Matty Kennedy replaced Tom Davies and Polworth came on for David Watson.

Shamal George had been a virtual spectator but came up with a brilliant stop five minutes into the second half as he leapt to tip away Kennedy’s goal-bound shot.

The Livi keeper was at it again on the hour mark, sensationally keeping out Donnelly’s close-range header.

KILMARNOCK, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 07: Livingston's Ayo Obileye looks dejected during a cinch Premiership match between Kilmarnock and Livingston at Rugby Park, on February 07, 2024, in Kilmarnock, Scotland. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
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Livingston were guilty of wasting a host of first-half chances

The home supporters were lifted by the introduction of Van Veen on 71 minutes, part of a triple switch by the hosts.

Killie survived a huge scare when Mo Sangare passed up a glorious chance after being picked out by Andrew Shinnie.

The Lions almost paid the price for their lack of cutting edge when Murray found Watkins with a pinpoint cross, though he was the latest to be denied by more heroics from George.

Kennedy stung the palms of the keeper before the hosts finally made the breakthrough with two minutes left.

Van Veen did well to nod Kennedy’s cross into the path of Watkins who turned the ball into the net.

What the managers said

Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes: “We’re not going to be in a rush to watch the game back again, but a late winner is always so welcome – sometimes they are the best ones.

“I told the players to enjoy it because it wasn’t enjoyable – but enjoy winning the game.

“We struggled for any fluency, we gave the ball away, chose the wrong option and lacked confidence – which was strange as we’d only lost one in 10.

“We’ll take that but we need to learn from it, as the season goes on there will be a little bit more pressure on each game.”

Livingston manager David Martindale: “I thought defensively we were very, very good in the shape – we defended very well.

“I felt we had the better chances in the game, I felt tonight was probably more on the offensive players at the club if I’m being brutally honest.

“I don’t believe performances alone are enough to make it turn but there are very few performances that I’ve came in worried.

“I’m frustrated for the players more so than me because I can feel the anxiety and frustration in the changing room.”

What’s next?

The attention now turns to the Scottish Cup with a fifth round on Saturday.

Kilmarnock are at home to Cove Rangers while Livingston travel to Partick Thistle. Both games kick off at 3pm.



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