Grading centre backs will always be much more of a challenge than grading attackers. They…
The Tony Macaroni Arena will play host to the likes of Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen next season after David Hopkin’s Livingston did the seemingly impossible on Sunday; secured promotion to the Scottish Premiership. The Lions defeated Partick Thistle to complete what is the ultimate underdog story.
It’s no secret how small Livi’s budget is and the magnitude of this achievement cannot be underplayed. Hopkin inherited a team a couple of years ago who he couldn’t save from Championship relegation. Fast-forward two years and he’s assembled a squad that have won back-to-back promotions and will now play top-flight football come August. It’s truly remarkable.
But how have they managed to defy the odds and overcome the likes of Dundee United, Dunfermline, Falkirk and also Partick Thistle? We decided to scratch the surface to see where Livi’s strengths lie and how these have contributed to the seemingly impossible becoming a reality.
This is hardly in-depth analysis, but this Livingston team are fit. This has been apparent throughout the season but particularly so during the play-offs. Hopkin’s side never seems to tire and when it comes to the closing stages of games there is no sign of fatigue. Having spoken to Lee Miller and Hopkin this season, they’re not shy to tell you that the players are putting in double, sometimes triple, sessions to stay sharp. Whereas other teams might wind down their training towards the end of the season, Livi are ramping it up.
It’s, therefore, no coincidence that they score a significant number of goals in the latter stages of games. The chart above highlights how the Lions scored a staggering 25% of their league and play-off goals in the final 15 minutes. Simply put, their increased fitness doesn’t just make it harder for the opposition to play, it allows themselves better attacking opportunities.
This fitness is key as Hopkin demands his team to work hard on and off the ball, something his squad has done to great effect this campaign. They might be one of the better teams in the Championship, but they work tirelessly throughout every match. It well-known that Livingston enjoy playing the long ball and it’s extremely fruitful for them. Consequently, they have to constantly battle for the ball and to regain possession.
This is emphasised by the above graphs. When it comes to defensive duels in the Championship Livingston (2,257) are third overall behind Queen of the South (2,419) and Brechin City (2,484). It can be argued that this shows Livingston’s willingness to battle and win the ball back. That’s especially impressive given that they are one of the top two teams in the division. In essence, they are battling to win the ball back as hard as Brechin who were on the backfoot in every game this season.
Moreover, when we look at interceptions it’s a similar story. Although this time Livi are only the fifth best team in the league with 1,524 interceptions. That said, they are still in the top half of teams in this metric which emphasises the point that they are a side that works hard to break up their opponent’s play and attempts to regain possession.
When it comes to aerial duels they come out on top. It’s important to note that due to their style of play they are probably more likely to contest more aerial battles. Conversely, their tally of 2,747 is ahead of Queen of the South 2,686 and then significantly higher than that of next placed St Mirren (2,308). There’s a case to be made that this is another indicator of how this Livingston team battle to win the ball back whether it’s in the air or on the ground. Bottom line is, they work extremely hard.
There is a very strong case to say Livingston have the best defender in the Championship this season. Craig Halkett is only 22 years old but he’s Livi’s captain and a hugely influential player for the West Lothian club. He’s been instrumental in their success and his numbers highlight this.
Ex-Rangers youth player Halkett emerges top in two different metrics; defensive duels and interceptions. He was involved in more defensive duels (267) than any other Livingston defender. In fact, only four other players in the whole of the Championship were in more. We should note that Declan Gallagher also impresses in this area with just one less (266).
Halkett also bests his defensive teammates in the overall number of interceptions he made in the Championship (223). Once again this wasn’t just impressive in comparison to those around him in yellow and black shirts, he’s in the top five players in the league for interceptions. The youngster is symbolic of this Livi side in that he is always up for a fight and making sure his side win the ball.
Whilst they are hardly prolific Livingston get the job done when it comes to scoring goals. None of their strikers managed to reach double figures in the league, with Ryan Hardie finishing as their top scorer on eight goals. Which makes you think that Livi could potentially add another threat and dimension to their game were they to get a fox in the box for next season.
They do have the experience of Lee Miller up front and Keaghan Jacobs scored in both legs of the Lions’ play-off against Partick Thistle. They also have creativity through Josh Mullin and Rafa De Vita who both finished joint second for overall assists in the Championship. Similarly, Hopkin has a box-to-box midfielder in Scott Pittman who plays a key role in the spine of this team.
Playing in the Premiership is going to be a huge challenge for Hopkin and his squad. Although they’ve managed to pass every test with flying colours thus far, the West Lothian club have a lot to do before they kick-off the new season in the top-flight. The priority is getting Hopkin and certain key players tied down to new contracts. Then it’s about adding to this squad so they can give it a right good go next season. The Tony Macaroni Arena might not be a name that’ll strike fear into your heart, but it’s not going to be an easy place to go and play, that’s for sure.