The Redemption Stories of Livingston
Another week gone in the season of Livingston Football Club and another that is massive for the club. Three games with a further two wins and a single draw now sees the Lions unbeaten record under David Martindale reach an incredible 13 matches. The West Lothian club's brilliant form has earned the club terrific praise and rightly so as this ragtag bunch's story has been a bright feature of this season's Scottish Premiership. What makes the Lion's recent triumphs even more incredible is the journey's from a number of their key contributors, with plenty of inspirational stories going round within the club.
The story of David Martindale has been heavily publicised in the National Media with the criminal past of the manager being brought to the attention of many for the first time following his appointment as manager. The "fit and proper person" hearing made sure this stuck around for a bit longer as the club awaited the verdict from the country's football governing body, thankfully resulting in Martindale passing the criteria. The checks are standard procedure for the league and, of course, with Martindale's past, it was always going to take longer and face larger scrutiny.
Thankfully common sense has prevailed as Martindale has done his time for his crimes in the past and ever since then, has managed to turn his life around completely. Completing a degree in Construction Management following his release from prison, Martindale's connections within his company led to him becoming a volunteer at his local professional side Livingston following the recommendation of many closely affiliated to the club.
At first, Martindale would do basic things within training such as laying out cones whilst being a great hand to the club in terms of maintenance. From there, Martindale's service during a time where the club was short for money gained him a lot of trust within the club and has allowed him to progress within the Almondvale club, eventually becoming assistant manager and head of football operations. The club has had a meteoric rise from League 1 to the Scottish Premiership since Martindale officially became David Hopkin's assistant whilst continuing to work on improving himself, completing his UEFA B coaching license in the meantime. With plenty of hard work and results, it is to no surprise that Martindale was the first option Livi turned to when Gary Holt resigned. A great run that earned him the Scottish Premiership Manager of the Moth award for December has seen Martindale completely turn his life around in stunning fashion. Martindale is a clear example of how the rehabilitation process should be used and is an inspiration to not only those who want to turn their lives around but all in general.
Martindale has been a real breath of fresh to Scottish football with his infectious personality winning over the mass majority of punters and pundits within Scottish football. The former Broxburn juniors player tells things as it is which has already brought a number of humorous highlights including claiming Efe Ambrose was being tapped up by Celtic and bluntly stating that new signing Jaze Kabia isn't the brightest of the Livingston squad.
But the most impressive aspect of Martindale's tenure so far is how tactically aware he appears to be. There have already been quite a few instances where Martindale has produced tactics and ideas that mirror an experienced manager who has done it all before. The game plan versus Hibs to exploit space behind a high line at every opportunity had the game all but over by half time, whilst Martindale's use of his squad in the two games against Celtic saw the West Lothian unlucky to not win either game. Martindale keeps it simple, giving his players the freedom to play in the oppositions final third whilst not taking any chances anywhere near their own goal. With an abundance of energy within the team, this simplicity has worked wonders, scoring 25 goals, conceding 5 and keeping 9 clean sheets in the incredible 13 game unbeaten run. Of course, in this season Steven Gerrard will probably take away the Manager of the Year award but I don't think anyone could disagree if David Martindale were to win it instead, especially if he manages to lead Livingston to a top 6 finish and a League Cup victory.
The 28th of February brings the aforementioned Betfred Cup final as Livingston square off against St Johnstone but the semi-final against St Mirren brought another great story within the Livi ranks. A single goal from Scott Robinson ensured the West Lothian club will be returning to Hampden this season in a moment that shows just how far the former Hearts youth has come.
Robinson burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old, becoming the league's youngest player ever at the time. He featured for the Jam Tarts at White Hart Lane against Tottenham and came off the bench in the famous 2012 Scottish Cup Final where Hearts destroyed neighbours Hibs 5-1. Robinson would soon move onto Kilmarnock but failed to make an impression and was released, shortly joining Dunfermline Athletic in League 1. Again, Robinson was unable to make a great impression and was soon released again. Robinson found refuge at East Fife as a part-time player.
It was at East Fife though were Robinson would impress, proving to be a thorn in the side of Livingston as he played a big part in the Fifer's defeating Livi three times that season. As Livi returned to the Championship, Robinson was signed up and would go onto to be apart of the side that would get Livingston back to back promotions. As Livi have been in the Premiership for the past two seasons, Robinson has mainly been used as a utility player, not really nailing down a position of his own but a great squad player who could always be relied upon. That continued at the start of this season too, with Robinson doing a job in a number of positions under Gary Holt whilst hopping in and out of the starting eleven.
However, that soon changed on a cold December evening in Perth with Robinson actually being quite fortunate. Matej Poplatnik looked to have secured the centre forward position as his own but was forced off due to injury against St Johnstone. Scott Tiffoney was brought on as his replacement but also fell victim to injury and with David Martindale looking for an energetic option up top, he turned to the versatile Robinson. Since then, the rest is history.
Robinson would calmly score the winning goal in said game and go on to be the Lions number 1 option, scoring five times and assisting once in eleven games. Robinson has made the position his own due to his high energy performances where he doesn't give any defenders a minutes peace. Despite his small stature, Robinson is a total nuisance for any centre back, with good pace and energy making him hard to shrug off whilst having great concentration and positioning to get in front of defenders. Robinson also wins a stunning amount of headers or forces mistakes from the opposition with his challenges, something that has drawn comparisons to former Lion Lyndon Dykes. Now, of course, Robinson isn't quite the same level as Dykes but it cannot be denied that he is having a similar impact on the team by proving to be a hassle in every game.
For someone whos career looked to be starting to wind down in League 1, Robinson has shown what can be done when you have the right attitude and apply yourself correctly. In all honesty, there will probably be a lot of strikers who are technically just as good as Robinson and in some cases are probably better. However, what will separate them is that tremendous attitude that Robinson possesses that keeps him hardworking and doing the correct things in every game. Not saying that Robinson doesn't possess great technical attributes, you just need to watch some of his recent finishes for proof of that. Robinson's journey to being a key player at a top 6 club should be shown to all youngsters who look to make their way into the game. Yes, talent is important but if you don't have that desire and application, you won't get far.
Following Livi's achievement at Hampden, the Lions were quickly back in action as Kilmarnock travelled to the Tony Macaroni Arena. The midweek fixture brought light to another one of the player's personal turnarounds and is that of Scott Pittman, making his 250th appearance for the club. Arriving from Bo'ness United juniors, Pittman now sits with the second-most appearances in the club's history and has been ever-present in the Lions squad for the 6 years he's been at the club.
Pittman was a youth player for Hamilton Accies but dropped out of the league system completely, winding up at Broxburn and the aforementioned Bo'ness. The midfielder's relationship with David Martindale saw Pittman arrive at Almondvale under Mark Burchill and would soon become a mainstay in the team ever since. There's been highs and lows since then culminating in the American born midfielder consistently plying his trade in the top flight and even attracting suitors from elsewhere.
These accolades are something that the very humble Pittman won't boast about as he simply just wants to play football. David Martindale recently joked about Pittman's quiet personality as he hailed the midfielder as his best piece of business which is hard to argue with. Nobody would have expected Pittman to go on and have this great career at the club but it is now at the stage where he is held in regard as one of the club's greatest ever players. Again, like Robinson, Pittman's career could have halted and he'd bounce around at club's at the lower levels but with the correct application, he's managed to turn things around and do very well for himself, even if he wouldn't want to bring any light to that.
Livingston have more than proved enough recently that they are a great place for talent to develop and have another chance at making at a level they were rejected at before. In recent seasons, Declan Gallagher, Liam Kelly and Craig Halkett have proved themselves after being released from bigger clubs. The club has also granted great opportunities for players to make great strides in their careers by going from lower leagues to bigger things, most notably Lyndon Dykes. Even looking at the Lions current squad and you will find a host of players who have been rejuvenated at the club.
Jason Holt was without a club at the start of the season and began training with the West Lothian club to keep fitness up, now he's a contender for the club's player of the season. Marvin Bartley was out of favour at Hibs but now as Livingston captain, he's shown that he still has plenty left in the tank. Max Stryjek was plying his trade in the National League following his departure from Sunderland and is now the club's number 1, keeping 10 clean sheets this season. Alan Forrest has continued to develop at the club whilst Ciaron Brown's performances have merited Mick McCarthy personally asking for the defender to return to the Championship club with the intention of using him. Jon Guthrie and Nicky Devlin were together at Walsall and now sit as two of the club's most valuable players due to their high level of consistent performances. With Scotland short in both of their positions and both possibly being eligible (Guthrie pending), there's no reason at this rate that either one could follow in the footsteps of Declan Gallagher, Liam Kelly or Lyndon Dykes and make the jump to being called up at International level.
This reputation is incredibly important for a club like Livingston who have to work with a small budget. Players now look at Livingston and see it as a positive step in their career, whether as a stepping stone or somewhere that they can prove themselves once again. This kind of pull can help the club attract slightly better players as there is clear evidence of the club's and player's trajectories heading in a positive direction. If this can be maintained, there's no reason that Livingston can't enjoy a good spell in the top flight and become a mainstay of the league, quite like what St Johnstone and Hamilton have done in the past decade. A lot of hard work needs to continue at the club but with the current personnel, they wouldn't have it any other way.