Martindale's strong start as Livingston manager has been down to the club's new signings
As we approach the final Scottish Premiership fixture of 2020 (good riddance) it’s probably fair to say that all eyes will be on Celtic and Rangers. Neil Lennon’s side welcome Dundee United, Steven Gerrard’s team travel to Paisley to face St Mirren. Both of the Glasgow giants will be determined to avoid any banana skins before the all-consuming Old Firm derby on January 2.
However, just outside the strong currents of the Glasgow goldfish bowl are one team that have slowly but surely got back to form without a huge amount of attention or interest. Livingston, under new management, have not only pulled themselves up to sixth place in the Scottish top flight, but have also won more points than the reigning Scottish champions over the last five match days.
Indeed, as you’ll undoubtedly know dear reader, Gary Holt departed the Tony Macaroni Arena in late November following a 1-0 defeat to St Mirren and since then David Martindale has picked up the reigns and quickly got the West Lothian side back in form.
It’s a poorly kept secret within the small and intimate world of Scottish football that Martindale has long been the brains behind Livingston’s rise from lower league cannon fodder to Premiership giant killers. And while today’s article isn’t intended to fact check that rumour, it will focus on an aspect of Livi’s turn in form which may suggest this team was always designed by the hands of the 46-year-old coach.
New blood and fresh faces at Almondvale
It seems like a lifetime ago that we were talking about Lyndon Dykes the Livingston player rather than Lyndon Dykes the Scotland saviour, but it’s certainly worth bearing in mind that the striker was one of a number of key players that left Livi in the summer and forced the Premiership side to do all they could to put together a squad that could avoid relegation.
Not only was Dykes sold for a handsome fee, but Livingston also lost Steven Lawless to Burton Albion and Ricki Lamie to Motherwell. Add Aymen Souda to that list and that’s 20 of Livingston’s 41 goals from last season walking out the door and needing replaced.
Earlier in the season I spoke to Livingston CEO John Ward about the club’s remarkable ability to unearth gems in the Scottish lower leagues and from elsewhere. And that’s exactly what they did again. Salim Kouider-Aissa, Jason Holt, Alan Forrest and Robby McCrorie were plucked from Scottish clubs, while Julien Serrano arrived on loan from Monaco, Max Stryjek and Jack Fitzwater from England and Matej Poplatnik joined from Indian Super League side Kerala Blasters.
However, none of it seemed to work at first. In their first 10 league games of the season, Livingston won just three games. They then won just four more in their next nine games and by that point Holt had decided he’d done all he could and fell on his sword.
Yet, what makes Livingston different now under Martindale isn’t so much a dramatic change in tactics or an east run of form for the new manager, but rather that these new signings seem to be finally performing for their new club.
In his first five games in charge Martindale has seen Holt pick up two assists, Forrest score two goals, Fitzpatrick (a central defender) score goal goals and Poplatnik - a largely unused sub under Holt - also score two goals.
However, perhaps the most impressive new signing actually came in the form of Josh Mullin. The former Ross County winger managed to have his contract rescinded in October after finding himself surplus to requirement and Martindale acted quickly to resign a player that was instrumental to Livingston’s promotion to the Premiership in 2018.
And since then Mullin has done nothing but repay his old coach’s faith in him and show County just how wrong they were to let him go. Since Martindale took over, Mullin has picked up no less than four assists and a goal in just six games in all competitions.
Of course, it isn’t just goals and assists that have helped Livingston get back on track. Alongside his two goals, Fitzwater has looked like a great replacement for Lamie and at left-back Serrano has nailed down a starting role under Martindale. Add to that the shot-stopping skills of Stryjek between the posts and you’re looking at a Livingston team that is now mostly made up of new recruits.
Indeed, in their most recent match against Kilmarnock, Martindale claimed a 2-1 win over Alex Dyer’s side with a starting XI made up of six players signed in the summer. With a seventh in Poplatnik coming on in the second half.
Whether Martindale has just had better luck than Holt with the players at his disposal or has finally been afforded the chance to build this Livingston team the way he intended when he perhaps brought each of these players to the club in the summer is anyone’s guess, but there’s little doubt that these new faces are driving his impressive start to life as the club’s new manager.