Any Hibs fans thinking life couldn’t get any more harrowing than the midweek mauling by Aston Villa were disabused of that notion, in no uncertain terms, on a brutal afternoon in Leith.
Their failings clinically exposed by a Livingston team who more than deserved their 3-2 victory, Hibernian have now lost their first three Scottish Premiership games of season 2023-24. And show few signs of halting the decline any time soon.
When Martin Boyle equalised Scott Pittman’s early opener on the hour mark, there was a brief flicker of hope among supporters moved to tears of frustration by their team’s start to the domestic season.
But Livingston retaking the lead directly from the restart, substitute Bruce Anderson nodding home from close range, prompted a display of outright mutiny at Easter Road, with a large section of the crowd calling for the departure of manager Lee Johnson – voluntary or otherwise – in language both crystal clear and colourful.
And those demands for change only increased in volume when Mo Sangare lashed home an absolute screamer of a third for the visitors with about 15 minutes remaining.
Despite Hibs sub Josh Campbell scrambling the ball home to make it 3-2 inside the closing five minutes, there was to be no reprieve for the only top-flight team still to register a point in the new campaign.
The hosts – showing five changes from the starting XI dismantled with such ease by Villa – desperately needed something from this one. A solid opening 10 minutes, for a start.
Before they’d even reached that first staging post on the way to recovery, however, Hibs had conceded. A brilliant ball inside right back Riley Harbottle sent James Prentice scampering into the final third and, when he whipped a low cross along the six-yard box, Pittman slid into beat David Marshall from point-blank range.
Hibernian’s response showed more effort than nous, as they poked and prodded, pondered and plodded in and around the Livingston box for the rest of the half, the home side not moving the ball nearly quickly enough to break the visitors down.
When Joel Nouble then exposed out-of-position stand-in right back Harbottle with an identical replica of the ball that had produced the opener, the mood seemed set. Complaints about players overlapped with questions about the manager’s selections.
Booed off at half-time, Hibs re-emerged after the break showing one change, sub goalie Max Boruc replacing Marshall, who had picked up an injury in a collision midway through the first half.
Boruc instantly endeared himself to the fans by making a fine one-on-one save from Nouble after 52 minutes, although the fact that the Hibs defence had been exposed with relative ease – again – was a major concern.
Boyle’s equaliser, the fan favourite leaving two defenders trailing and rifling a left-footed shot into the roof of the net after scampering clear from a throw-in, was greeted with a roar of relief. Barely 60 seconds later came the now-familiar cries of despair.
Emotions were toyed with, blows landed and absorbed as goals were exchanged. But the end result was rarely in doubt. Which is more than anyone can say about Johnson’s future as Hibs manager.