2020/21 Season Preview - Livingston: Strength In Numbers
Livingston took everybody by surprise last season, with nobody expecting the Lions to net a top-half finish in comfortable fashion. The Lions had the spine of their team ripped out which led to a lot of uncertainty for the following season and thankfully for the West Lothian club, their recruitment was on point. Jon Guthrie and Efe Ambrose now fill the gaps left by Craig Halkett and Declan Gallagher whilst new club captain Marvin Bartley has taken over from former fan favourite Shaun Byrne excellently. The acquisition of Lyndon Dykes has also played a huge part in Livi's success, giving Livi a proper outlet to their attacking game rather than focussing on pace on the counter or solely on set pieces.
As the pandemic affected football, a lot of clubs would be expecting cutbacks on funds going towards players and possibly a handful being let go for cost-saving reasons. With this, clubs squad sizes were expected to be reduced and even right now, less than a week before the season, some clubs squads are pretty minuscule. Somehow though, the Lions seem more than prepared for the upcoming season, with a current squad of 30 players signed up, only Celtic and Rangers having more. The Lions have done a great job in ensuring they have full squad settled early on in pre-season, giving more time to gel as a unit.
It's all good having players signed up but with Livingston, the side doesn't look to be an awful lot weaker when missing a few key players. The Lions are able to easily shift between a 3-5-2 and 4-2-3-1 to suit the personnel available which was showcased at the end of last season. The Lions have the likes of Ciaron Brown to fill defensive holes as well as reliable figures like Robbie Crawford and Keaghan Jacobs in midfield. With the addition of the 5 substitutions rule, Livi look more than set to compete well again this season with a plethora of options to come on off the bench. Teams will also be dreading the thought of going 1-0 down at the Tony Macaroni Arena and the Lions throwing on a bunch of extra defenders to protect their lead.
In the club's recent spells back in the top flight, they haven't been overly blessed in attacking options. The first season back saw injuries to Lee Miller and Ryan Hardie lead to makeshift strikers used in the form of Dolly Menga and Scott Robinson. Last season Livi relied on Lyndon Dykes who delivered the goods but had the Australian striker been injured for a long spell, the club would've been short for options yet again. However, this season looks to be much different, with Livi bulking up on attacking talent. The signing of former Indian League striker Matej Poplatnik and Queens Park Salim Kouider-Aissa gives Livi the option to rotate if need be or add more firepower when chasing goals. A lot is said about Livi's defence who gain a lot of the plaudits but the Lions were also the joint fourth-highest goalscorers last season, with the Old Firm and Hibs the only teams scoring more. With more options, the Lions can focus more on their attacking output and pose further threats going forward. Livi have maintained their attacking threats from set-pieces and these new signings will offer the club more options in open play.
With all this being said, it's fair to say that Livi's success could come down to whether or not the side can hold onto Lyndon Dykes. The striker was a revelation last year and caused many teams problems where he has since gained plenty of recognition. Dykes fits the target man role perfectly but is much more than that profile, with a good touch and pace that has caused Christopher Jullien nightmares. Dykes is a great talent and would be a huge loss for Livi, especially due to how vital he was the season before, contributing to 20 goals overall in all competitions. Should Dykes head down south or even to the likes of Rangers, Livi would notice his loss and rely on new signings to hit the ground running. Kouider-Aissa looks to be very promising but may need time to get used to the demands of full-time football and would benefit a lot learning from Dykes rather than being chucked in at the deep end.
Gary Holt deserves great credit for his time at the club and has created a situation where players are keen to develop their craft at. This secured Alan Forrest from Ayr United and lured Ciaron Brown back for a third spell which is a credit to a club who were in League 1 not too long ago. Last season was great for the club and with the club's recruitment record in recent years and managing to keep a hold of most of their key talents - so far -, the club could very well have another solid season within the top half. If the club can patch up their weak away form, there could be plenty more surprises in store this season from the Spaghettihad side.