• Angus McGregor

Livingston 2-0 St Johnstone: Recap and Analysis

The league's worst defence hosted the league's lowest goalscorers as Livingston faced St Johnstone at the Tony Macaroni Arena. Livi were coming off the back of two successive defeats, a disappointing loss at home to Hamilton and a 3-2 loss away to Celtic, the latter bringing an element of promise. Callum Davidson's St Johnstone side were also coming into the game with two losses in their last two outings, both 1-0 defeats to Motherwell and Ross County. The Saints last 5 games had ended 1-0, with only one in the Perth side's favour.

St Johnstone haven't been able to get going so far this season, scoring only 4 goals in 8 games so far. With their fixtures being close affairs for the most part, it seems likely that St Johnstone would be a lot higher up the table if they were more clinical and were able to turn some of those losses into draws at least. Coming into the game, they would have confidence as Livingston have not been the same side defensively this season, conceding 14 in 8 games. The Lions home record has been lauded in recent seasons but that seems to have diminished, with the Lions losing 2 out of 4 games already this season and conceding 3/4's of the goals they let in last year.

Both sides came into the game reverting from a 3 at the back formation, with Livi opting for a 4-2-3-1 as defender Ciaron Brown dropped out for Alan Forrest to return to the starting XI. Craig Sibbald would also miss out as Gary Holt selected Scott Robinson to give width on the right flank and opted for the midfield duo of captain Marvin Bartley and former Saints midfielder Jason Holt. Scott Tiffoney would hold onto his spot upfront after a solid display against Celtic. Callum Davidson's side lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Callum Hendry, David Wotherspoon and Liam Gordon making way for Michael O'Halloran, Murray Davidson and Craig Conway. Zander Clark would also return in goal for the Saints, making his first appearance since the 7th of March, coincidentally in a game against Livingston.

The first half hour of the game offered little in end product between the two sides, with Stevie May going closest as he got a touch on a dangerous cross from Craig Conway on the right flank but his effort went straight to Livi keeper Robby McCrorie. The next five minutes following the half-hour mark would decide the games fate as Livi hit two goals in quick succession. A good piece of quick distribution from McCrorie saw Michael O'Halloran eventually be robbed of the ball from Scott Tiffoney as Livi looked to hit Saints on the counter-attack. The chance for Livi to score appeared to have been lost but the Lions kept the ball alive as it eventually ended up to Scott Tiffoney who calmly placed the ball into the bottom left corner. Tiffoney's strike was his first for the club since he scored a double on the last day of the 2018/19 season in a 3-2 loss to Motherwell.

Livi would strike again immediately after, with a Marvin Bartley drive into the Saints half gaining Livi valuable yards, allowing Julian Serrano to find Tiffoney in the box. The 22-year old held the ball very well up against Jamie McCart and laid the ball off to the oncoming Alan Forrest who expertly curled the ball around Zander Clark and into the bottom right corner. Forrest's finish was exceptional as he scored his second goal of the season, levelling him with the now departed Lyndon Dykes at the top of the Lions scoring charts.

Livi wouldn't threaten much more going forward but managed to hold on to the better share of possession. St Johnstone would threaten from set pieces, with an eventual corner ending up at the feet of substitute Callum Hendry who curled the ball past Robby McCrorie but was thwarted by some heroic defending from Livi's Jason Holt. The game would be of few other chances as Livingston rode the game out for a deserved three points.

Differences in Awareness and Effective Movement

The form and reputation of Lyndon Dykes deservedly earned many plaudits and interest from around the U.K, with the now Scotland international making a £1million+ move to QPR in the English Championship. With this, the role of striker for Livingston would be up for grabs with big shoes to fill following Dykes' phenomenal tenure at the club. It looked like Anthony Stokes would be the one to replace the Aussie born striker but for certain reasons, that is no longer the case. This has opened the opportunity for some of Livi's younger players to have a chance in the first team, with Holt trying out three different strikers since Dykes departure.

Jack Hamilton started against Rangers but it was decided a loan spell would be best for him and fellow striker Salim Kouider-Aissa who have both joined League 1 clubs this season. Lars Lokotsch had been favoured due to his similar stature as Dykes and impressed in the home win over Ross County but was dropped for the outing at Celtic Park.

Gary Holt recognised a pacier forward who would exploit spaces would be the best way to go and Tiffoney did cause Celtic problems, even earning a penalty by running into space down the flanks. With a decent outing, it was no surprise that Holt selected Tiffoney again with the same intentions in mind.

Whether Tiffoney is a natural striker or a winger is up for debate, the 22-year-old does seem more than capable of fulfilling either role, mainly due to his movement. Tiffoney isn't a striker who is banking on balls coming into the box, instead, he looks to get involved in the build-up play, whether that is through pressing hard when his team aren't in possession or drifting wide when his side is in control of the ball. The latter is what Livi executed very well as Gary Holt reverted back to a 4-2-3-1, with Tiffoney co-operating well with his full-backs and wingers to get at the Saints defence.

This move starts off in a very basic position, with Nicky Devlin on the ball at the byline in St Johnstone's half. Off-screen Livi are positioned fairly well, with their midfield and attack in good formation.

Devlin knocks the ball back to Efe Ambrose and holds his high width, encouraging Jason Holt to enter the space created as St Johnstone fail to pick him up, with Murray Davidson pointing toward other dangers and Ali McCann focussing on Marvin Bartley leaving Holt to pick up the ball with little pressure on him.

As Holt receives the ball, his body positioning is most key here as he is able to put himself on the front food immediately to progress the ball forward for Livi. As Holt is beginning to turn, we can see Scott Robinson making a run towards the middle of the park, coming off his marker on the right-wing and giving St Johnstone left-back Scott Tanser a decision to make, whether to follow his man and leave space or keep the defensive unit tight for now. At the same time, Nicky Devlin progresses slightly further forward up the line. We can also see at the top of the screen that Scott Tiffoney is beginning to make a run toward the space Robinson has just come away from and his looking for the ball into feet.

As seen in the previous image, Scott Tiffoney continues to run into the abundance of space caused by Scott Robinson's movement but there are two actions within this phase that help make this play work. Firstly, the positive forward pass from Holt should be commended as he has tried the difficult pass. He could easily just drop the ball into Robinson's feet and Livi can progress from there but instead, plays a great ball over 25 yards into the feet of Tiffoney. This calls the Saints centre back into action, having to follow Tiffoney and as we can see, starts to create a big gap between the two centre-halves. Tiffoney's run into space is aided by the movement of Nicky Devlin (off-screen) who has now dragged Scott Tanser out wide, as Michael O'Halloran has failed to track the runner.

As mentioned previously and with the camera moving forward, we can see clearly just how much space has been created by Livingston's movement. As well as this, the main player who is making a bursting effort into getting into said space is Livingston's Scott Robinson, leaving Ali McCann behind whilst Murray Davidson and Liam Craig have failed to anticipate the danger. The second St Johnstone centre-back is occupied by Scott Pittman so is unable to cover his centre-back partner. In reality, Liam Craig should be monitoring this space as the holding midfielder who is not marking anyone.

Tiffoney drops the ball to Devlin who does well to send the ball into the exposed area. As clear by the image, none of the players are in a great position in order to deal with Robinson should he get on the ball. Craig has still not moved across and Ali McCann appears to be unable to keep up with Robinson. The first Saints centre half begins to retreat but is still thinking about where Tiffoney is, leading him to be unaware of Robinson's presence.

All was going perfectly for Livi until the final piece of the puzzle. Robinson's run eventually forced the second centre back to close him down, leaving Scott Pittman free in the box for an easy tap in. Unfortunately for the Lions, Robinson's touch lets him down and his mishap allows Saints to finally get a body near to one of the Livingston players and clears for a throw in. This only 7 minutes in would show Livi's movement which would come into play on several occasions later on.

This next bit of play showcases Tiffoney's movement from the centre backs whilst cutting out a few passes. As can be seen, Jon Guthrie has the ball in a similar area to Efe Ambrose in the first example, with the left-back Julian Serrano getting high and wide.

Serrano continues moving along the line as Guthrie looks for a pass, with Robinson making a run inside yet again. Once again, a Livingston player plays a very confident forward pass over 30 yards over an easy pass inside, to the off-screen Scott Tiffoney.

A moment of appreciation has to go to Jon Guthrie for that fantastic pass that carved St Johnstone open. If we saw that pass in another league it would be praised heavily and retweeted thousands of times across the world. This defence-splitting pass takes advantage of St Johnstone's centre-halves napping, allowing Tiffoney to peel away into a dangerous position.

A poor touch again from Livi sees the ball loop high into the air above Tiffoney, giving the centre-halves time to recover. Tiffoney is still in the driving seat in this opportunity, although making it much more harder for himself.

Tiffoney takes an unfortunate double touch before Jason Kerr makes a risky but clean tackle to put the ball out for a corner kick. Once again, the attack highlights the lacklustre approach St Johnstone had to getting back and following runners, as you can see Liam Craig and Murray Davidson failing to track midfield runners again. St Johnstone's failure to recognise danger and Livi's movement off the ball would go onto contribute highly for both goals scored.

Goal 1

Robby McCrorie tried to launch a quick Livi counter attack but Tiffoney was unable to win the header, with the ball ending up at the feet of St Johnstone's Michael O'Halloran. With not many options, it is expected that O'Halloran will hit the ball long, especially as Nicky Devlin closes the winger down and is soon joined by Scott Tiffoney.

O'Halloran seems to not recognise the danger at all as he doesn't react to the oncoming players who force a mistake. O'Halloran loses his footing and Livi are suddenly in a 2v2 situation and fancying themselves for pace.

Livingston smell danger as clearly shown from the photo above with Scott Pittman, Scott Robinson and Alan Forrest all bursting forward to capitalise on the mistake. As for St Johnstone, the fact Michael O'Halloran is still lying on his stomach simply watching the attack flow rather than make amends for his mishap is very telling.

It seems as if Livi may have squandered the chance as Devlin plays Tiffoney a bit too wide but Livi had plenty of bodies in the box to take advantage, ending up with 5v3 in the Saints penalty area.

Jamie McCart manages to get back to help out but with St Johnstone still outnumbered, they fell unlucky to a couple of ricochets. The first is the follow up of Alan Forrest's attempt on goal which winds up at the feet of Scott Robinson, who lays the ball off for Forrest to have another attempt on goal.

The tackle made by Scott Tanser here is a heroic piece of defending as he thwarts Forrest. The danger is not gone as the ball breaks free as Livi have three players unoccupied in the box.

Livi ride their luck but are rewarded for their tenacity as the ball lands at the feet of Tiffoney. With nobody immediately near the forward, he is able to take a touch and calmly finish into the bottom corner, earning his reward for a good display early into the game. The Saints desire to get back and defend only seemed to be apparent from those natural defenders but would not be enough to stop Livi opening the scoring.

Goal 2

The second goal from Livingston relies more on individual quality but the impact of Livingston's attacking awareness and movement goes a long way to making it happen, albeit simplistic. From this situation, it doesn't seem as if there is a lot of danger as Serrano is closed down out wide.

Serrano manages to deliver into the box where Tiffoney reacts quickest and holds onto the ball. Alan Forrest (marked with an X) is already on the move instantly as Tiffoney collects the ball and is offering in support. We can also see Livi have options in the form of Scott Robinson and Scott Pittman who are unmarked, with 4 Saints players in the top left corner being taken completely out of the game.

Tiffoney lays the ball off for the incoming Forrest and the winger's class shows for itself. A one-touch finish of the highest standard, Forrest manages to slide the ball through three players, around the keeper and into the bottom corner. A magnificent finish that oozes class, Forrest's goal sealed the win for the Lions in a game that was much more like it from the West Lothian side.

Following the game, Marvin Bartley hailed the performance of Scott Tiffoney, praising the forward's output and attitude. Tiffoney has certainly had to be patient at Livi and performances like this will go a long way in helping turn the young attacker into a first-team player at the Tony Macaroni Arena. Bartley stated that youngster has been working hard and adapting his game in order to suit a lone striker role and with his movement against St Johnstone, it appears to be going well. The challenge now for Tiffoney is to continue on from here and continue his development. He has plenty of experienced bodies around him to aid his progress and as long as he applies himself like he did last Saturday, he could become the one to replace Dykes for the long term.

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