Livingston left it late to seal all three points on Wednesday night, with Jaze Kabia and Scott Pittman grabbing the goals that added Kilmarnock to the growing list of Premiership sides that the Lions have put to the sword. But what can we learn from the clash in West Lothian? Seán McGill reports from the Tony Macaroni Arena.
A late flurry from Livingston saved a turgid stalemate at the Tony Macaroni Arena as goals from Jaze Kabia and Scott Pittman consigned Kilmarnock to a 2-0 defeat.
Other than a few Livi chances from set pieces, which mainly fell to the imperious Jon Guthrie, the game looked like petering out to an uneventful 0-0 – a result Killie boss Alex Dyer would likely have been happy with considering the Lions’ stunning form in recent weeks.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, it was a set piece that would eventually break the deadlock. Killie failed to deal with a good delivery from a Craig Sibbald corner in the 89th minute, with the substitute Kabia picking the ball up at the back post and seeing his hard strike deflected into the top left hand corner.
Before Killie could even consider salvaging a point the game was already beyond them. A long pass saw Scott Robsinon knock the ball back to Pittman, who poked the ball past Danny Rodgers to mark his 250th appearance for Livingston with a winning goal.
Livingston are bonafide ‘Best of the Rest” contenders
We probably didn’t need this game to tell us this, but it certainly didn’t harm their case. In the most positive way possible, Livingston are an absolute nightmare to play against. Relentless intensity, defensive solidity, and astute efficiency characterise a side that have flourished since David Martindale took the step up following the resignation of Gary Holt.
When he did so, the Lions sat in 10th place with just three wins from 15 matches. The win over Killie stretched Livi’s unbeaten run to 12, with 10 wins accompanied by two draws against the reigning league champions. The first few months of the season suggested it may be a long season of Livingston looking over their shoulders. Instead, their eyes are firmly aimed upwards.
It seems that no matter the personnel, this Livi team continue to stride forwards. Whether it be Man of the Match Jason Holt dictating the play in the middle, or Nicky Devlin marauding down the right flank, or Scott Robinson pestering the opposition backline, Martindale has elevated his players beyond expectations.
Expectation is what they must now contend with. The win takes Livi to just five points off a faltering Hibs side that currently sits in fourth – with a game in hand for the Lions. The trip of Aberdeen on Saturday could dampen or heighten this expectation, but with Jack Ross and Derek McInnes both under pressure, some may just tip Martindale’s side to stride past them in the race for Europe.
Killie’s lack of ambition haunts them again
After the match, Alex Dyer spoke of the disappointment in his players’ inability to see out the game professionally. A fair sentiment considering his side were just minutes away from snatching a point against the form team in the country. However, it also speaks to the side’s mentality in approaching games.
It seemed from the start that Killie were content with sitting in and allowing the hosts on to them, surrendering 62% of the possession throughout the game. They offered just two shots of target, neither of which particularly troubled Max Stryjek in the Livi goal.
It wasn’t until the 86th minute that Dyer elected to make some form of positive subsitition, when Nicke Kabamba went on in a like-for-like swap with debutant George Oakley. Prior to that, the centre back crisis in Ayrshire continued as Stuart Findlay failed to re-emerge for the second half following a meaty challenge from Pitman in the first period. His replacement, Ross Millen, fared reasonably considering he was a right back playing as the left centre half.
Dyer’s subsititions have a been a point of grievance for Killie fans this season, accused of not making enough or waiting until the game’s beyond them before switching things up. The bigger issue, one that was exemplified on Wednesday, is a lack of willingness to take the game to the opposition.
Watching Livingston on the sidelines may well have reminded Dyer of the Killie side he and Steve Clarke took to third in 2018/19. Until Killie begin to pose that threat again, or take that risk again, or press opponents with that intent again, they will remain onlookers as sides like Livingston grab the initiative and the headlines that the Ayrshire side once did.
Scott Pittman: Underrated Legend
Scott Pittman is a name rarely spoken outside of West Lothian. It’s very unlikely you’ll see it on any team of the year shortlists or player of the season awards, but quietly, he has carved that name into Livingston folklore.
The win against Kilmarnock was capped off by a Pittman goal that epitomised the player on his landmark 250th appearance for the club. Despite the game having headed into injury time, the midfielder still had the energy to push forward and pressurise the Killie defence.
He also showed his intelligence in driving into the box at the right time to ensure he picked up the ball, before calmly prodding it into the back of the next. It’s these attributes that have played an integral role in Livi’s rise through the divisions over the years – not to forget his vital Play-Off strikes against Dundee United and Partick Thistle.
Pittman becomes just the second ever Livingston player to reach 250 appearances for the club. Only fellow midfielder Keaghan Jacobs has run out more times for the Lions since the club left behind its previous moniker of Meadowbank Thistle and became Livingston FC in 1995.
Some fans of Scottish football may underappreciate the midfielder’s body of work, but his manager certainly doesn’t. In his post-match press conference, Martindale said of Pittman, “I love him to bits. He’s probably the best bit of business I’ve done at this club.”
Speaking of Martindale’s press conference….
David Martindale is the best interview in Scottish Football
I’m not going to try to cleverly convey the humour and charm of Martindale’s comedy show-come-press conference. Instead, I’m going to give you the highlights in their purest form. You’re welcome.
On playing junior football with Pittman “He used to do all my running and I used to do all his shouting.”
On Pittman being a club legend “Aye I think so, but you couldny tell wee Pitts that. He’d go out and get a fake moustache and all that. He wouldny want to walk about Livingston.”
On Kabia giving him a selection headache “He’s gave me a headache because he’s not the brightest. I don’t know what it is, I just sign them. They all come to me. I’m like a magnet…There’s a lot of coaching in him, and a few paracetemols I’ve got to get through.”
On being deemed a fit and proper person by the SFA “I said to the lads ‘you need to go and pick up points today. This is my first game as a fit and proper person.’ I don’t know any fit and proper persons. I’ll take that accolade. I was asking the missues ‘Can you get me a coffee? I’m a fit and proper person.’ She was like that, ‘Chase yourself’”
When speaking of David Martindale, “fit and proper” doesn’t cut it. Put simply, he’s a breath of fresh air. Scottish football is lucky to have him.