Livingston Mid-Season Review: David Martindale’s Men Come Roaring Back | OneFootball

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The 4th Official

·8 January 2022

Livingston Mid-Season Review: David Martindale’s Men Come Roaring Back

Article image:Livingston Mid-Season Review: David Martindale’s Men Come Roaring Back

With 20 matches played in this season’s Cinch Premiership and matches halted for the winter break, what better time to take an in-depth look at the story of Livingston’s season so far.

Turnover & Transition

The Lions experienced quite the turnover in both players and staff in the summer, with the situation best summed up as a revolving door. The likes of Jon Guthrie, Julien Serrano and Scott Robinson all left the club, and there were no fewer than 15 additions to the squad along with a lengthy departure list.

Assistant Manager Liam Fox and experienced Goalkeeping Coach Tony Caig moved on to pastures new, which saw Marvin Bartley take a back seat from dominating the midfield as he stepped into the dugout. Stuart Garden replaced Caig, and Dougie Imrie was brought in as a first-team coach as well as fronting up the academy, which the club have worked on re-introducing.

This turnover presented an immediate challenge to manager David Martindale. He was faced with the difficulty of cultivating another great dressing room atmosphere that proved pivotal in Livi’s rise from League One to the Premiership in just two seasons.

It was clear that despite the quality of players signed; it would take some time for the new additions to adapt to life at the club and, for some, adjust to playing in a totally different league. This challenge, coupled with the ever-growing awkwardness of the pandemic, saw The Lions make a poor start to the 2021/22 Premiership campaign as they picked up just 4 points from their opening eight matches.

Martindale’s men got through the Premier Sports Cup Group Stage by the skin of their teeth. They comfortably beat Brechin and Cowdenbeath but only managed a penalty shootout victory over Raith Rovers after losing 2-1 to Alloa Athletic. Livi advanced to the Last 16, though, as one of three best-placed group runners up and went one stage further, knocking out fellow Premiership side St Mirren to reach the Quarter Finals where a trip to Ibrox would prove a step too far.

It was a very tough start to the league season on paper for The Lions, who were beaten in their opening four league matches. A 3-0 defeat at Ibrox to last season’s champions Rangers was followed up with harsh home defeats to Aberdeen and Motherwell, in which Livingston had led at the break in both. Hibs inflicted more misery on the West Lothian side at the end of August as Jack Ross’ side won 2-0 at Easter Road.

Livingston came back fighting after the international break though, earning a point and a first clean sheet at Dundee before another memorable victory over Celtic at the Tony Macaroni Arena. It was said that Ange Postecoglou would end the Livingston hoodoo for The Hoops as they looked to put a stop to their terrible recent record in West Lothian, but Andrew Shinnie’s strike gave the hosts their first Premiership victory of the season and a much-needed lift.

The lift was short-lived as humbling defeats to Rangers, Hearts and St Mirren followed. There were even calls for boss David Martindale to be relieved of his duties from some corners of the Livingston support, but the man who has been at the heart of The Lions’ meteoric rise over the last five seasons quickly answered his critics.

Livi recorded impressive and significant away victories in their next two Premiership matches at St Johnstone and Ross County – two sides who had been struggling themselves. A 3-0 win at McDiarmid Park felt to many like a small bit of revenge for last season’s Cup Final defeat. The moment of the season so far took place in Dingwall thanks to Tom Parkes’ 95th minute winner in front of the raucous, travelling Livingston supporters.

Three draws followed against Dundee United, St Mirren, and most impressively on the road at Celtic – Max Stryjek’s penalty save and a battling defensive performance earned Livi a point at Parkhead. This made it five unbeaten, but three defeats on the bounce to Rangers, Aberdeen and Hearts quickly spun those previous, positive draws into a negative as the stats now read six without a win – highlighting the competitiveness and ever-changing dynamics of this season’s Premiership. It perhaps showed the inconsistency of the side, but they were starting to find their way after a disappointing start and began to prove that they have what it takes to survive despite being written off in August.

Re-Discovering Identity & Back to Basics

With Craig Sibbald and Scott Pittman sporadically coming back into the fold, Livi had started to find their identity again. It hadn’t disappeared as such, but it was clear to see that the emphasis on the foundations of what made the side so successful and hard to beat over the last number of years wasn’t as prevalent. Despite a defeat to Hearts, Livingston produced a stellar first-half performance which was only bettered by the display of Scotland’s number one Craig Gordon. There wasn’t a Jambo in the ground that could have complained if their side was three goals behind at the break.

A similar performance followed against Hibs four days later, but this time Livi got their just rewards as Jack McMillan, who had been a driving force in Livingston re-discovering their identity of hunting in packs and relentless pressing as a new-born midfielder, netted the only goal of the game!

Article image:Livingston Mid-Season Review: David Martindale’s Men Come Roaring Back

LIVINGSTON, SCOTLAND – SEPTEMBER 18: Ayo Obileye of Livingston celebrates at full time during the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Livingston FC and Celtic FC at Almondvale Stadium on September 18, 2021 in Livingston, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

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Ayo Obileye then scored his first Premiership goal at Tannadice as Livi continued their impressive away form, before the defender doubled his tally and netted a massive late equaliser at home to Ross County the following week.

2021 ended on a slightly sour note for The Lions though as their Fir Park hoodoo continued. Motherwell ran out 2-1 winners on Boxing Day, which saw Livi still searching for their first win in North Lanarkshire since October 2002.

Plenty of Potential

In summary, the season so far for Livingston has been slightly successful, but there are elements that can be improved on. It’s a success because they are the side with the division’s lowest budget, and by some way, so to grind out results against the likes of Celtic and Hibernian is fantastic, as well as continually punch above their weight in the top flight. But, there are certain areas in which there is scope to be better with a few disappointing results in a league with fine, fine margins that can be costly.

Home form is something which can, of course, be improved upon, with only two wins and 8 points at the Tony Macaroni Arena – the second worst home record in the Premiership. Although, that negative can be spun into a positive as Martindale’s men have been impressive on the road, securing 12 points away from home – the joint 4th best in the Premiership.

In an attempt to steer away from those shouts of ‘who should play up front?’ or ‘should we operate with three or four in defence?’, we all have differing opinions on personnel, tactics and results – that’s just football. Many may disagree with the opinions in this piece. It could be argued that one of the only real negatives for Livingston this season is, in some ways, a positive which is that they’re perhaps a victim of their own success.

That’s not to say that there can’t be grievances, not at all – there are several, but there’s a point to be made that this season looks a lot worse than the last couple because The Lions were at lofty heights in the Premiership on their way to back to back top six finishes. Their current position of 8th would be a great success, much to the disagreement of some pundits and fans. Consecutive top half finishes shouldn’t be an expectation – they were both achievements that are probably not spoken about enough when looking at the resources of the club.

If Livingston can put in similar performances to those that we’ve seen in spells this season – the victory against Celtic, the hammering of St Johnstone, the desire and tenacity versus Hibs – then they’ll be more than alright come May. The threat of relegation seems just that little bit more to the front of the minds of the Livi faithful than it has been in recent memory. However, this group of players, bolstered by a few more additions in January, are more than capable of beating the drop.

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