Livingston are set for their second consecutive season in the top-flight of Scottish football after comfortably surviving their first season back in the big time for twelve years.
The Lions were tipped by pundits and oppositions fans alike to be relegated following their incredible back-to-back promotions, but the West Lothian side proved the doubters wrong as they secured safety with six games remaining.
This season could be a different scenario though. The summer transfer window has seen the club lose a lot of their key players. Defenders Craig Halkett and Declan Gallagher, and midfielder Shaun Byrne were all vital in Livingston’s rise through the divisions, playing their part in Livi’s League One win and then Premiership Play-Off victory, but they’ve moved on.
Goalkeeper Liam Kelly will also be a huge miss. Along with the trio of Gallagher, Halkett, and Alan Lithgow, the Lions’ backline kept 14 Premiership clean sheets last term, which was instrumental in the club’s success.
This season, it’s again got to be about just staying in the league for Livingston, and continuing to build a platform with the aim of being an established Premiership club in the future. Gary Holt’s side have one of, if not the smallest, budgets in the league, so anything other than a 10th placed finish would actually be a bonus due to the financial situations at some of the clubs around them.
Despite losing several key players and cult heroes, The Lions have added no less than eight signings over the summer. This season hasn’t started yet of course, but on paper the squad looks very strong going into Saturday’s match with Motherwell, and the fans will be encouraged by the side’s performances in the Betfred Cup.
Livingston claimed 11 points from a possible 12 in Group G, and sailed into the last 16 (like I predicted – maybe a link to Betfred Cup preview in here). As a result, they were rewarded with a seeded place, avoiding the big guns in the draw, and will travel to League One side Forfar Athletic in the next round, with every chance of progressing into the Quarter Final.
The new arrivals have looked impressive, in particular Lyndon Dykes, Nicky Devlin and Aymen Souda have all stood out. Dykes looks like a suitable replacement for the outgoing Ryan Hardie, and offers a great target man option as well as the ability to get in behind a defence.
Devlin looks like a fantastic addition at full back, with the pace to get forward on the overlap to put in dangerous deliveries. Souda has also caught the eye, with two goals in his four appearances. The winger is exciting, skillful, but has shown he has the ‘football brain’ to find a pass to retain possession rather than be flamboyant all the time.
Marvin Bartley featured heavily in the Betfred Cup too, along with Robbie Crawford, Cece Pepe and Matija Sarkic. Bartley will provide vital experience in the midfield this season, and Crawford looks like he has the ability to make the step-up to the top-flight after several years with Ayr United.
Pepe hasn’t done much wrong, but is still an unknown quantity, along with left back Ibrahima Savane who hasn’t yet featured competitively, and Sarkic has been fairly untested, although he did save two penalties in our penalty shoot-out victory against Falkirk. It will be interesting to see whether or not he is preferred to Ross Stewart at the number one this year.
If Livingston are to avoid trouble this season, they’ll need to grind out results, and pick up points from the sides around the bottom half of the table. The club managed some shock results last year, turning the Tony Macaroni Arena into a fortress as they claimed home victories over Hearts, Hibs and Rangers, as well as taking points from every team in the league – including two draws with Celtic and a point at Pittodrie, Tynecastle and Easter Road.
But, this season The Lions are no longer the surprise package – the rest of the league now know what they’re about – so it’ll much more difficult to get the results against the bigger sides. That’s why I believe Livi need to pick up the points against the sides around them that they didn’t quite manage last season, especially away from home.
Livingston will want to win more games against the likes of Hamilton, St Mirren, Ross County and St Johnstone, games in which they were inconsistent in last season. It is vital to take as many points as possible against these sides if they are to secure safety once again.
Also, after just one win on the road last year, Gary Holt will be looking for more victories away from home, with their last Premiership victory coming in August last year. This is again a must if they are to survive.
About Talk Livi
Calum Brown travels the length and breadth of the country to support Livingston FC and also contributes to the weekly podcast ‘Talk Livi’, which, along with fellow supporters Andrew Semple and Euan Rankine, allows supporters to voice their opinions about everything going on at the club.
Each episode contains exclusive audio from the manager and players, and also includes an interview with a member of the Livingston squad.
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