Livingston have the second-lowest wage bill in the Scottish Premiership but are outperforming those with bigger resources significantly. Gary Holt spoke to the Totally Scottish Football Show about how…
With the various shades of shambles at Hearts, the problems at Hibs, the ups and downs of Aberdeen and of course the Old Firm hoovering up most of the attention above them, it’s pretty easy for success stories to go under the radar in the Scottish Premiership.
Like Livingston, for example. They avoided relegation last season pretty comfortably in the end, following their return to the top flight after over a decade away, but this term their sights are set even higher than that. They currently sit fifth in the table, above a couple of teams who going by size and resources should be way ahead of them, and while survival is the first priority for a team of Livingston’s size, they’re looking up rather than down.
And that isn’t supposition: it’s what manager Gary Holt exclusively told the Totally Scottish Football Show this week.
“I always say you should look above,” Holt said. “If you look behind you, you’ll get nervous in games and play without the freedom we play with. Focus on those above us, which at the moment is Aberdeen and Motherwell: can we catch them? Who knows. But if we keep picking points up and keep believing we can pick points up, the ones below us can’t catch us.
“It’s only our second season in the Premiership for a long time, and we want to put things in place and the work we’ve put in pre-season is certainly bearing fruit, but we’ve still got a long way to go in the season.”
All of this is even more impressive when you consider that only Hamilton have a lower wage bill than Livingston in the Premiership, but part of the key to Livingston’s success this term has been their ability to find talent in the lower divisions and places where nobody else would think to look. Top-scorer Lyndon Dykes was signed from Queen of the South in the Championship, midfielder Scott Pittman came from non-league Bo’ness a few years ago, Scott Robinson came from League One East Fife: we could go on. And Holt likes to look even further down the food chain than that for talent.
“There’s not a great amount of money in Scottish football,” says Holt, about the club’s recruitment strategy. “Some players playing part-time football have good money coming in from that and their full-time employment, so sometimes it’s a risk to ask someone at 23, 24 to sign a two-year deal on the same, or maybe less money, to have an ambition they can make it in the long-term. Then when those three years are up, they might have a mortgage, wife, kids, and they’ve given up their stable job.
“You’ve got to find people who are willing to take that chance, who believe in themselves to make it, but you can’t fault people who say no, who think they’ve got too much to lose. But there is a lot of talent out there – you’ve just got to keep looking, keep watching and not be too big-headed about the fact you’re a Premiership club, thinking ‘why are we going down to non-league football to find a 19, 20-year-old boy who’s maybe just lost his way?’ They are there to find, you’ve just got to take the time and the effort to do it.”
Livingston’s home record is the bedrock of their success this season, having only lost twice at the Tony Macaroni, with only Celtic and Rangers boasting better form on their own patch. That is frequently put down to their plastic pitch, but Holt doesn’t believe it’s a significant advantage.
“People will use it as an excuse. But being in football as long as I have, if you give a player an excuse before the game starts, and they don’t get the result they wanted, they’ll use that excuse. The funny thing for me is that we’ve scored more goals away than we have at home this season, and people keep going on about the home record. Yeah, our home record is good, but a lot of teams have got really good home records.”
But what of his own future? Livingston’s success has surely meant offers have come his way?
“You trying to get rid of me?” he laughs. “No, I’m just doing my job, I go in every day, do my work, stay focused on the boys and getting the best of them. I’m very much about the collective and how the boys do, and yes it’s nice when people talk about you and you get praise and the manager of the month award, but it’s the collective. It’s what you do as a team that gets you the plaudits.”
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