With one set of supporters describing this as a must-win game and the other set whispering that it was a game they couldn’t lose you could be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be either a classic or a complete chess game.
The gods were good and provided us with a day that inspired running about to keep warm as there were brooding clouds over the stadium – and I am not talking the pressure on home manager Steven Aitken – as well as two teams that should have been up for trying to get 3 points from this game.
Dumbarton made two changes from the team that lost to Raith Rovers as new signing Stevie Saunders and Gregor Buchanan went straight into the team with Mark Docherty and Eamon Brophy hitting the bench to make way.
For Livingston Hugo Faria got the nod over the misfiring and mercurial Miles Hippolyte. Many Livingston fans were sure that a spell on the bench would help focus his work rate when he got back onto the pitch – how right and wrong they were to be proven.
It only took 3 minutes for some form of opportunity and it came from a free kick flighted in by Willie Gibson as Fraser Wright slipped his marker in the box to rise out of a group of players and head over the bar. You would think this was the pre cursor for some end to end stuff as Livingston woke up to the danger and Dumbarton began wave and wave of attacks; you would be seriously in error.
Livingston did manage to see Jordyn Sheerin on the 7th minute, play Liam Buchanan through with plenty of time and space, but Steven Saunders was able to slip across to block the danger with his legs.
It took about 15 minutes before Dumbarton were able to find their passing game whilst Livingston appeared content to float balls into the box; it was however a contented Mark Brown who was rising above everyone to catch them.
In the 17th minute Gary Glen got a shot away from 35 yards when once again he was given time to steady himself, pick a spot and shoot; Brown started diving even before he let go, so was able to save easily.
Possibly the best opportunity of the half up till that point fell to Liam Buchannan in the 23rd when he latched onto a long ball and, having slipped his marker struck the ball well but wide.
The Dumbarton side that I had come to see showed me that the defence seemed very solid, there was a lack of creativity in midfield and up front was hard to judge as they were getting very little service. In short I could have copied and pasted the views expressed that morning on Pie and Bovril and missed the game.
In the 29th minute Livingston again had the opportunity to go ahead as firstly Liam Buchanan’s shot from inside the box came off an arm adorned with a white shirt which appeared in an unnatural position. As some shouted for a penalty Jordyn Sheerin tried to steer the ball goal ward but it was cleared. Once again it was Livingston taking command of things and as they try and mount a Tsunami style attack on the Dumbarton defence, their lack of confidence made it more akin to a gentle paddle at Troon beach.
In what was against the run of play, Dumbarton opened the scoring through Kevin Cawley. It all came from a Dumbarton corner that was cleared, Livingston headed off on a counter attack which subsequently broke down. The ball ended up at Willie Gibson’s feet who was able to attack into the box before being given the time to pick his cross and Cawley out for a header. Minutes later Cawley had to leave the field to be replaced by Eamon Brophy as he had turned his ankle.
The Sons were however leading for only 5 minutes before a corner for Livingston was headed from the back post by Declan Gallagher back across the goal and saw Gary Glen heading in from 5 yards out.
That was how the first half finished as both managers headed to the dressing room to find the formula for excitement.
The half time team talk seemed to come to the conclusion, at least in the Livingston dressing room, that a change was needed and off came Darren Cole to be replaced by Miles Hippolyte. With Hippolyte now on, the Livingston faithful bucked up and expected plenty; plenty was what they got. In the very first minute of the second half we saw him, with some wizardry, fashion a chance for Hugo Faria that was 40 yards out but inches over the bar. Livingston seemed to have woken up and were looking to be the team most likely to which Dumbarton struggled to find any rhythm in the first 15 minutes of the first half. The difference seemed to be Hippolyte who had managed to give new signing Saunders a bit of a torrid time whilst also suckering the youngster into a tackle that earned him a booking on the 56th minute.
With 64 minutes on the clock Livingston’s Declan Gallagher was then allowed to rise above everyone and head over from a Gary Glen cross.
In the 70th minute, having fallen in the box as if he had been shot, Hippolyte got up and in an off the ball incident which was seen by the referee but not by many others got himself sent off. The abuse he suffered as he left the pitch came mainly form his own supporters as the mercurial character arrived with hope and then stole it like a petulant thief who seemed unable to countenance that others would fail to acknowledge his genius.
As for his abandoned team mates, and after a tactical substitution, they continued to press with Scott Pitman managing to fashion an opening from the edge of the box on the left hand side as he sent off a shot that Brown again was able to smother.
Dumbarton were misfiring. It was as if losing a man from your opposition had them confused and as soon as they got into Livingston’s half they lost the thread of their conversation.
They almost rued that lack of concentration when in the 79th minute, Morgyn Neil’s throw in got to Kieran Gibbon whose well placed shot was heading for the top corner but Brown was able to stretch and keep it out.
Dumbarton took the lead however, just as in the first half, when the tides were very much against them in the 83rd minute. Substitute Eamon Brophy showed awareness in the middle of a good old fashioned stramash which sent the Sons fans into rapture and the Livingston fans got to practice for a sponsored silence; in fairness they did stay, perhaps feeling that they deserved more from the game and that they may still get it. They did rattle the bar in the closing minutes but that aside and with more hope than expectation their 10 men did not manage to beat the 11 of the home side.
Dumbarton had started October with a win. That unfamiliar feeling, coupled with relief will not be allowed to hide the fact that Stevie Aitken has very real challenges ahead of him. As for Livingston sometimes having a disadvantage dished out to you as they had last year provides focus, but they seriously need to find that clinical touch from a far more reliable source than the wonderkid Hippolyte.
After the game, Dumbarton manager, Stevie Aitken was both relieved and full of joy.
He said: “Delighted with it. I don’t think it’s the best we have played in the last four-five weeks. I think if we’re honest enough we’ve played better and won nothing. So football does that and I think the rewards of today was for the effort over the last four or five weeks. We dug in deep today. It wasn’t pretty at times. But it’s about results you know and the three points are the most important part of today.”
Livingston manager Mark Burchill, was adamant where the blame for the loss lay, he added: “I think it’s completely unacceptable what Miles Hippolyte’s done – a kick off the ball. It’s the worst type of red card you can get. You let your team mates down, you let the club down, you let the fans down, you let everyone down, especially anyone who was at the game. It was complete and utter domination from our side.”
01 Brown, 04 Saunders (Booked 56), 05 Buchanan, 14 Barr, 22 Wright (Booked 25), 08 Gallagher (Kirkpatrick – 49), 17 Routledge (Booked 69) (McCallum – 82), 21 Brown, 13 Gibson, 09 Fleming, 07 Cawley (Brophy – 42)
Substitutes (unused) 03 Docherty, 16 Waters, 19 Ewings, 23 Ross
26 McCallum (Booked 84), 02 Millen, 06 Gordon, 14 Gallagher, 03 Longridge (Neill – 66′ Booked 86), 07 Pittman, 04 Cole (Hippolyte – 45′ Dismissed 71), 08 da Encarnação Pires Faria, 31 Glen, 18 Sheerin (Gibbons – 72), 19 Buchanan
Substitutes (unused) 01 Jamieson, 09 White, 10 Mullen, 17 Georgiev
Ref: Nick Walsh