What is the secret to Livingston's revival under David Martindale?

By Andrew SouthwickBBC Scotland

Ten wins in 11, an impressive 18 points from 18 under new manager David Martindale, potentially 180 minutes away from a second major trophy in their history and European qualification for just the second time on the cards.

Not so long ago Livingston were in crisis. Now they're occupying fifth place in the Scottish Premiership and, with a game in hand on Hibernian, the six-point gap on fourth place does not appear so daunting. They also have a Scottish League Cup semi-final on the horizon in 2021.

Apart from a new manager, what has been the secret to Livingston's revival?

A victim of their own success

At the end of November, Gary Holt resigned "with great regret" after 27 months in charge.

Livingston were 10th in the league, having taken only a point from their previous five games. After replacing Kenny Miller in August 2018, Holt led the newly-promoted club to ninth place, and they finished fifth in last term's curtailed campaign.

The West Lothian club's home form was the foundation of their top-six finish last term, with 28 points and just two defeats from 14 games the best record outside of Celtic and Rangers. But this season they had lost five of eight games at the Tony Macaroni Arena and their away form - five points from a possible 21 - was the worst in the division.

Martindale stepped in as caretaker boss, saying Holt's Livingston had become victims of their own success as they "raised expectations" with their achievements of the past two seasons. And since then, Livingston have been on a roll.

Wins over Ayr United and Ross County secured a trip to Hampden in the League Cup. And in the Premiership they have beaten Dundee United, St Johnstone, Hamilton Academical, Kilmarnock, Hibernian and Ross County to rise five places up the table.

Livingston 'a different animal'

Form table

Last season Livingston scored an average of 1.37 goals per game - more than fourth-place Aberdeen and the same as Motherwell in third.

The worry this season is that they would not be able to replicate that penalty box success. Striker Lyndon Dykes had provided nine league goals but left for Queens Park Rangers in August. Steven Lawless scored eight times in the Premiership but departed for Burton Albion.

By the time of Holt's departure, they had just 0.93 goals per game - 14 in 15 Premiership matches. Under Martindale it's 20 in eight in all competitions.

Even taking away the four goals scored against Championship Ayr United, they are scoring an average of 2.29 per game against top-flight opposition.

Alan Forrest made the step up to the Premiership in summer and has scored 11 goals this season, although just four of them are in the Premiership. Josh Mullin scored twice in three games, defender Jon Guthrie three in five, Scott Robinson has three in three and four in his past six.

"It's a different club to when I left, I've always said this," midfielder Mullin told BBC Scotland.

"I think the big thing that I've noticed over the last few weeks is that even though we're winning, the team selection has still changed for each game. That says a lot about Davie [Martindale]. He puts a lot of hard work into looking at formations and tactics. But he's also the first guy to help you out if you need it."

Solid defensively

When Craig Halkett departed for Hearts before the start of last season at the same time as fellow defender Declan Gallagher's move to Motherwell, questions were asked about how Livingston would cope without the defensive duo.

Yet, they conceded just 1.3 goals per game last season. Only the top four sides fared better. Of the 39 goals they conceded, just eight of them were at home, with eight clean sheets in 14 games.

It took them just six home games this season to surpass that eight home goals conceded total. Before Holt left, it was 26 league goals conceded in 15 league games. Since then it's three goals conceded in eight games, one of which was a penalty.

Only Hamilton's Hakeem Odoffin has made more interceptions in the Scottish Premiership this season than Guthrie. Nicky Devlin is fourth in the top flight for tackles won.

They have also kept their discipline. Although captain Marvin Bartley has seven yellow cards this season, Livingston are one of only three teams to have not received a red card all season.

Toughest tests on the way

Livingston's biggest challenges are yet to come, with 11 games coming in the next five weeks. The win over Ross County on Saturday began an exhaustive period of two games a week until 13 February.

Within that they have a double header home and away to Celtic, trips to Aberdeen and Dundee United, and a League Cup semi-final with St Mirren.

Martindale 'making management look very easy'

BBC Sportscene pundit Neil McCann

Maybe David has just come into his own. He's his own man now, he's the manager, he's taken over the team, and he's getting a great reaction. It's an incredible start, he's making management look very easy.

He's got a group of players there - solid at the back, there's a nice balance. They've got big lads that can go and mix it; Nicky Devlin, Efe Ambrose, Jon Guthrie, the boys right along the back line.

Then they've got this little posse of players in the middle and they're almost identikits. You've got Jason Holt, you've got Craig Sibbald, you've got Mullin, you've got Robinson. And they're scoring goals, so he's got the mix right.

'We're up there for a reason' - David Martindale

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