EX-Livingston hero Iain Russell is adamant his former employers are a far better side than their current form and league position suggest.
The forward, now a key figure for tomorrow’s opponents Queen of the South, became a fans’ favourite during his three seasons in West Lothian before leaving for Dumfries last summer. The 31-year-old, who netted over 50 goals for the Lions, admits he is perplexed by Livi’s current demise which has left them perilously close to the bottom of the table, a position they occupied after last weekend’s humbling by Hibs before a well-earned point at the Falkirk Stadium on Tuesday night lifted them out of the drop zone and into eighth.
Tomorrow’s clash at the Energy Assets Arena will be the fourth time the sides have faced eachother despite being little more than two months into the campaign – Livi edging out the Doonhamers in extra time in both the Petrofac Training and League Cups while the sides drew 1-1 draw at Palmerston on league duty in August.
But Russell, who expects Livi to come out fighting tomorrow, says he and his team-mates will make the trip north in buoyant mood.
“It’s surprising to see where they are in the league because against us they’ve been excellent,” Russell noted. “Any time we came up against them last year they were really good as well – they’re sharp and play a passing game.
“It’s no secret they like to pass the ball so we’ve got to be wary of that. They’ve got a bit of pace about them as well and, with Burton O’Brien in the middle, he’s the orchestrator for them and he’s a really good player.
“Obviously, they’ve struggled against teams recently but, at the start of the season, they were flying and they’ve also made the final of the Petrofac Cup so it shows you they are a decent outfit.
“They’ve beaten us twice in extra time already so they’ve definitely had the better of us so far this season. In terms of the league position, we are above them so it would be good to go there and get one over them this time round.”
Russell continued: “Being at Livi was probably one of the most enjoyable periods of my career. I scored a lot of goals, we won the league so I really enjoyed my football. I met some really good friends there who I’m still really close to.” Russell concurs Livi haven’t had the rub of the green as far as the fixtures are concerned with consecutive matches against Hearts, Rangers and Hibs – Livi unable to take a single point off the “big three’ and conceding 11 without reply in the process.
But, as Russell rightly points out, it is a prospect that, ultimately, the remaining six clubs in the division will have to face at some time in the campaign.
“Everybody has to play the three bigger clubs,” he said, “but, having them all in the space of a few weeks probably isn’t ideal. I think most sides will look at those games and feel that if you can pick up something, then great. It’s against the other teams where the points will really make a difference.”
Russell is embracing a new lease of life at Palmerston, being a mainstay this season under new boss James Fowler and predecessor Jim McIntyre.
The Dumfriesshire side lost out in the opening round of last season’s promotion play-off to Falkirk, a loss everybody connected with the club found difficult to digest. But he is confident Queens can once again mix things up at the business end of the table come May.
“I’m enjoying it – working under Jim early on was great and we’ve kicked on since then. Now that James has taken over he’s been absolutely great and he’s stuck with me so I’d like to repay him as well. All the boys wanted James to get the job.
“We obviously made the play-offs last year so I think that has got to be the target this season with Hearts, Hibs and Rangers in there but, at the same time, you’ve always got to look at the likes of Falkirk and Raith Rovers to stay in the mix as well. If we can sneak into fourth place then we’d be happy with that.
“Hearts have looked the best team so far but I think it will be tight between them and Rangers come the end of the season.”