David Martindale: From Livi assistant to manager of the year contender

By Nick McPheatBBC Scotland

"Who would have thought that the Livingston assistant at the start of the season could be manager of the year come the end of it?"

Eight weeks ago, David Martindale took on the unenviable task of replacing Gary Holt at Livingston.

With the club 10th in the Scottish Premiership, just four points off the foot of the table, even the most optimistic of fans would likely have settled for top-flight security when Martindale was placed in interim charge.

Fast forward two months, the club are in their first major cup final in almost two decades and have European football in their sights.

BBC Scotland discusses the Livingston head coach's remarkable rise with Sportscene pundit Michael Stewart.

'Livi's form has snowballed'

Despite Livingston enduring a rough run at the time of Holt's resignation in November, it was always going to be tough to replace the man that followed up a ninth-place finish in their first season back in the top flight with fifth spot last term.

However, the relentless good form that has followed since Martindale took over has the West Lothian outfit sitting fifth in the Premiership, having claimed 20 points from the past 24 on offer.

Their current points-per-game average of 1.39 and their total of 32 from 23 games is higher than either of the past two seasons.

"The consistency Livingston have shown has been a huge factor," Stewart says. "Their form has snowballed to the point they are disappointed not to be taking all three points against teams like Celtic. That just shows you the head of steam they have built up."

Livingston stats graphic pre-Martindale until now

'They're not all about hard work'

In a top-flight season heavy on pragmatism, Martindale has brought a freshness with his side's approach.

In the past two campaigns, we have become accustomed to Livingston's industrious and resolute style, but Stewart feels that under Martindale's stewardship his players are "not all about hard work".

"There's clearly a gameplan there," he adds. "There's a genuine understanding of the game and how to put a team together that'll cause trouble for the opposition.

"That's built from a defensive structure that's hard to beat. My impression is that Martindale's very hands-on and the team look well coached - and that's a very good trait to have as a manager."

That could not have been more apparent than in the two back-to-back games against Celtic last week.

While most of the fallout from both draws against Neil Lennon's side has revolved around the troubles of the current Scottish champions, nothing highlights the progression of this Livingston side more than the fact they feel aggrieved to have only taken two points from six.

Martindale's side played with an admirable fearlessness at Celtic Park last weekend, pressing with intent out of possession while providing attacking quality on the ball.

And, despite making seven changes for last Wednesday's 2-2 draw, Martindale's men showed no signs of weakness as the incoming players stuck to the same principles and gained a valuable point.

That, though, was eclipsed by their efforts against St Mirren at Hampden on Sunday, when Scott Robinson's goal was enough to set up a League Cup final against St Johnstone on 28 February.

'How could anyone have predicted this?'

Michael Stewart quote saying Martindale's story is incredible

After a well-documented past that included a four-year stint in prison from 2006 for involvement in the supply of drugs through organised crime, Martindale asks to be judged on who he is now.

He faces a Scottish FA fit and proper hearing on Tuesday, at which his appointment will be discussed.

And, while the cameras regularly pick up his beaming smile and witty one-liners, behind closed doors the 46-year-old is instilling a belief in a side that find themselves on the brink of glory.

With Rangers showing no sign of letting up, it appears it would take something special to pip Ibrox boss Steven Gerrard to manager of the year.

But, with European football and the club's second major honour potentially on the cards, Stewart believes it is not beyond the realms of possibility to see Martindale claim that award come May.

"To have gone from where Martindale was to now," Stewart says. "How could anyone have predicted that? His story really is truly incredible - and it's only just begun."

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