THE big lumps of Midlothian against the warriors of West Lothian. It would be wrong to say these two teams were lumping the ball forward at every opportunity, but where the tight pitch at Tynecastle helps Hearts against most teams, against Livingston last night Craig Levein’s side could perhaps have done with a manicured playing surface and the width of Hampden Park.

With their identical three-man defensive lines and muscular wing backs, a Livingston side coming into the game on a five-match losing run felt every bit as much at home here as Hearts did. They more than held their own in a match with as many up and unders than you might get over the road at Murrayfield. No wonder Gary Holt had a smile on his face afterwards.

“People have been talking about loss of form, lack of form but I have been consistent that the form has been good, just the results haven’t,” said Holt. “Today we got what we deserved. We asked them to go toe-to-toe because they are a physical side. Hearts had the majority of the possession but we probably shaded it with the best chances. They are all knackered, they are on their knees. But to a man they were immense. Maybe we got a wee bit over-confident and thought we could go and dominate teams.

That the match should finish goalless was entirely unsurprising. Aside from that 5-0 win for Livi at the Tony Macaroni Arena in mid-December in a match where Arnoud Djoum was sent off, the remaining three meetings between these teams this season – all of them at Tynecastle – have harvested a sum total of one goal.

Not that some of these big lumps, to borrow from the words of Steve Clarke, can’t play a bit. John Souttar danced through the Livingston midfield to fire a shot into the side-netting early on. This was part of a decent start from the home side where Steven Naismith had a headed goal wiped off the books for offside, but for the most part both sides found creating chances against deep lying defences to be tough sledding.

Whether it was dropping a pass inside the wing back, or beating a man to get a cross in, Livingston defensive trio Alan Lithgow, Declan Gallagher and Craig Halkett too showed nice poise at times. The Livi skipper carried the ball fully 60 yards before firing in a cross which found Ryan Hardie’s forehead, the on-loan Ranger striker producing a fine tip over from Colin Doyle. The defender also had a fierce striker parried to safety by Colin Doyle from all of 40 yards. And Livingston had another fine chance too, Hakeem Odoffin tugging a shot narrowly wide after Steven Lawson had robbed Christophe Berra in a dangerous position.

If Livingston’s big men were dominating at the back, Craig Levein’s answer was to throw on an even bigger man. Uche Ikpeazu, his side’s brawny striker, was partly responsible for the club leading the league early in the season and he wasted little time putting himself about on his return from the broken foot which has kept him sidelined since October. The home fans howled for a penalty for a coming together between Chris Erskine and Naismith but it was a hopeful appeal and Liam Kelly wasn’t exactly overworked, even if he clutched a late, contested Ikpeazu header gratefully to his chest. Hearts are returning to full health but failing to take advantage of other slipping up above them will be a sickener for Craig Levein and his side.

“Did we do enough to win it?” said Levein. “Obviously not. I thought we lacked a bit of quality in the last third - and on a night when the two teams above us, Aberdeen lost, and Kilmarnock drew. But it was brilliant to see Uche back.”