Gary Holt Leaves Livingston: Thank You and Who's Next For Livi?
Livingston FC announced this morning that the club had regretfully accepted the resignation of manager Gary Holt. Holt leaves the Lions after over two years at the club, replacing Kenny Miller back in August 2018 and took Livi to a 9th place finish in his first season. The next season would see Holt take the West Lothian club to their second-highest ever finish in the top flight, finishing 5th place following the dismissal of the 2019/20 season. In his tenure at the club, Holt was nominated for the Scottish Football Writers' Association's 'Manager of the Year' award for the 2019/20 season whilst winning Manager of the Month in September 2018 and January 2020. As stated by assistant manager David Martindale, Gary leaves with the best wishes from all connected at Livingston on what is a very sad day for the club.
For Livingston fans, the news has come as a massive shock. After the poor 1-0 defeat at home to St Mirren, Holt hinted at the possibility of his departure in the near future by stating that he'll "have a decision to make" regarding his impact on this current squad. To fans of the club, this seemed like a warning for a few games from now, with a string of poor results eventually leading to the former Falkirk fan removing himself from the situation. Nobody expected this to be an immediate action and the news has truly stunned the West Lothian faithful.
It does seem surprising that Holt hasn't given himself the chance to be the one to fix things but as seen by his statements, he believes he has taken the club as far as he can. With the club unlikely to recreate the great form of last season, it is hard to disagree with that statement.
Gary Holt's tenure at Livi has been a great one for the club, with the Lions bursting into life in the Scottish Premiership immediately following his appointment, a 2-0 away win to St Mirren getting the ball rolling. Holt's Livi side picked up an astonishing 17 points from their first 7 games, an unbeaten run that saw the Lions beat Hibs, draw away to Hearts and, of course, famously beat Rangers courtesy of a Dolly Menga strike. A massive win against Steven Gerrard's side saw the Angolan Menga enter cult status with his first goal for the club downing the Glasgow giants.
The Lions were the surprise package of the season as the Tony Macaroni Arena became a fortress where teams were falling to Gary Holt's side each and every week. A 0-0 draw at home to Celtic looked like it could have been the Lions result of the season as Holt's men battled valiantly against Brendan Rodgers' treble-winning side, a game that was a true David vs Goliath spectacle in terms of resources. This result would be topped only a month later as the Lions faced Hearts on a cold December Friday night.
Livingston hosted Craig Levein's Heart of Midlothian on the 14th of December with the Edinburgh side sitting in 4th place and had the chance to go joint top with Celtic. However, the Jambos were sent packing back to Gorgie with a stunning 5-0 loss by the Lions who annihilated Levein's side in a 14-minute spell. As a fan, I've never experienced anything like it as we carved through Hearts like a hot knife through butter on what was a truly magical night at Almondvale.
Gary Holt steered the Lions to a 9th placed finish, with a 2-0 win at home to Hamilton securing safety with 6 games to go. A 0-0 draw away to Celtic later on in the season saw Gary Holt become the first Livingston manager to take a point from Parkhead, a massive achievement considering the club were in League 1 only two seasons prior.
With the club finishing comfortably clear of relegation and a host of key players departing the club, it seemed unlikely that the Lions would be able to recapture a similar level of quality the following season. However, Holt would do even better as the club remained just as solid at home, only losing two games at home and conceding 8 goals from 14 games. The home form went a long way in the Lions reaching their second-highest finish, with the highlight of the season being that long-awaited first victory over Celtic.
Holt's spell brings a lot of firsts and records set by the club that have brought fantastic memories to all of our supporters. There's an abundance of moments that will be hard for any manager at our club to outdo, with it unlikely that will happen any time soon. Due to this, it seemed inevitable that it would reach a point where Holt would feel he has taken the club as far as he can, and with the lacklustre start to the season, it seems obvious to him that this time is now.
We certainly won't forget what he did for the club as he is a true legend in the eyes of the Livingston support. He did a great job over the best part of his two-year spell and we will always hold him in high regard with hopes he is back into management soon again and smashing it - just not against us hopefully. A true legend of our club who has brought plenty of great times, all we can say now is thank you.
Of course, Livi will now be looking for the next manager to come into the club and steer the club away from relegation. Davie Martindale and Tony Craig will take charge of the club for this weekend's Betfred Cup tie against Ayr United but it seems vital that Livi bring in the correct choice quickly. With a winnable run of games coming up against Dundee United, St Johnstone and Hamilton, Livi could get their new manager off to a great start as they look to turn their fortunes around.
With Holt leaving, the bookies have already tipped former St Johnstone Scottish Cup winner Tommy Wright as a favourite to take over the reigns at the club, an appointment that I believe everybody would hail as a terrific one. However, the likeliness of Wright taking over may be thin due to the nature of how he left St Johnstone and how the Lions operate with assistant manager Davie Martindale having a say in first-team proceedings. Whether Wright would be happy with this situation would have to be seen but there is no denying that he is a terrific manager that Livi would be lucky to get a hold of. Wright worked wonders at the Perth side and is the ideal candidate for Livingston, whether they can get him is the real question.
Amongst Wright are a few former Livi managers being tipped to return to the West Lothian club. The obvious one of those names is David Hopkin, the manager who guided Livi back to the top flight through the play-offs in 2018. Hopkin opted to head to England with Bradford rather than stay with the Lions and now finds himself managing Greenock Morton. With his past affiliation and success with the club, Hopkin brings a lot of nostalgia that will lead to a lot of people clamouring for his return. His work with Martindale in the past has clearly been a success but availability may be an issue depending on whether he would be willing to depart his beloved Morton.
An interesting former manager who has also been tipped is John Hughes who was in charge of Livingston from February 2012 to November 2012. Hughes has expressed a great interest in getting back into management following his departure from Raith Rovers in 2017 and at this stage would probably relish a chance to be in charge of a Premiership club yet again. It may be worrying that Hughes is coming off the back of being in the wilderness but fans should only look at his magnificent work with Inverness to see what exactly he can do. Similarly to this Livi side, Hughes' Inverness had to work with a smaller budget than most teams in the league bur performed admirably, reaching their highest ever league finishes and winning the Scottish Cup.
More interestingly, Hughes could bring a change in style to this Livi side as they no longer seem to be as dominant in physical battles anymore. If Hughes were to come in and bring in a more technical style of play, it could be for the better of this Livingston side as they possess talents who are more than capable with the ball at their feet. The likes of Alan Forrest, Josh Mullin, Scott Pittman, Scott Tiffoney and Craig Sibbald would suit Hughes' style down to the bone and could be a massive turning point for how the club looks to play its football. Teams have snuffed out how Livi will come at teams, perhaps a switch-up of style could be the most healthy thing for the Lions this season.
The next manager to come into Livingston has a massive job on their hands but with the squad the Lions have, should be looking at it as a welcome one with a belief they can get the club out of this rut. The likes of Jon Guthrie, Jason Holt and the host of technical players do possess good quality and can get the club clear of the relegation zone despite performances so far this season. There will be pressure but this presents a great opportunity for a manager to come in and make a name for themself, just like Gary Holt did just over two years ago.