AS the hoary old issue of league reconstruction raises its head once again, Livingston and Partick Thistle combined to serve up a thrilling contest that can surely only help the cause of those lobbying for an expanded top division.
With the SPL enjoying a brief winter break, the spotlight has been temporarily shifted to the lower leagues and these two teams combined to put on an entertaining display that would have found favour with any neutrals who had chosen to travel out to Almondvale to take in a game, the teams sharing four goals in a match that did not stint on moments of drama or excitement.
Jackie McNamara, however, may not have enjoyed it quite so much. With the game heading into injury-time, his Thistle team looked set for their first away win in the league since their last visit here in September, a result that would have taken them back to the top of the First Division.
Instead, Thistle lost a player, Sean Welsh, to a red card for a second booking and then conceded a late equaliser when Marc McNulty swept in a shot after good work by the sprightly Stefan Scougall.
It was no more than Livingston deserved, given their dominance of the second half, but the concession still irked McNamara, who felt his team had been too gung-ho in the closing stages when greater streetwise savvy would have seen them close the game out.
"It is a sickener to lose a goal like that – it was a bit naïve from us at the end," he said. "There is a fine line between winning and drawing, but we should have held on."
Livingston remain outsiders for the sole promotion spot, but have games in hand that could thrust them into contention should they win them all. They were well worthy of their point here in the end even if they had to come from behind twice to gather it.
"A point was the least we deserved as we more than matched Thistle throughout the game," said Livingston manager Gareth Evans. "You do start to fear the equaliser won't come, but we kept going and got a reward for playing the right way."
After a couple of near things for either side, it was Thistle who went ahead after 25 minutes. There was a dose of good fortune about the strike, goalkeeper Andy McNeil doing well to keep out Kris Doolan's shot only to see the ball ricochet off the forward and dribble into his net.
Livingston were not in arrears for long. Just a matter of minutes, in fact, had passed since Doolan's goal when a Paul Paton clearance arrived at the feet of Anthony Andreu. The Frenchman had little to aim at, but his strike from around 25 yards was accurate and whistled into the corner of Graeme Smith's net.
Undeterred, Thistle came again. The visitors were enjoying a great deal of success down their left-hand side, where rangy full-back Aaron Sinclair proved to be a willing and able runner.
It was of little surprise, then, when their second goal came from such a source, Sinclair's arcing cross falling perfectly for Steven Craig to nudge into the far corner of the net with a deft header. Livingston could have drawn level again before half-time, Kevin McCann advancing from full-back before unleashing a shot that swerved and dipped before reaching Smith who just about kept it out.
The goalkeeper was more convincing when Livingston threatened again early in the second half, getting a strong arm on Iain Russell's powerful header.
Livingston appealed for a penalty when Sinclair collided with McNulty, but referee George Salmond was not convinced and Thistle were quick to take advantage, working play up the other end. Ross Forbes played in Craig only for McNeil to deny him what would surely have been the killer goal with less than 15 minutes remaining.
Then came the dramatic denouement. Substitute Jordan Morton struck the crossbar with a ferocious free-kick for Livingston before Welsh had a header that suffered a similar fate at the other end and then was sent off barely 30 seconds later. McNulty's late strike ensured this was not to be Thistle's day.