Cleland is leading the race to succeed Hughes at Livi

ALEX CLELAND is amongst the leading candidates to replace John Hughes as Livingston manager.

The St Johnstone youth coach is highly regarded by the Almondvale board, who are seeking to fill the void left by former hibs manager Hughes’ departure to Hartlepool United.

Cleland narrowly missed out on the job in February when Hughes was appointed manager alongside director of football John Collins. Livingston find themselves looking for another new figurehead nine months on and Cleland’s name is prominent on their list.

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Gareth Evans, Livingston’s first-team coach, has been placed in temporary charge of first-team affairs and will take the team for this weekend’s First Division encounter with Falkirk at Almondvale. Alloa boos Paul Hartley is also believed to be in contention but Cleland’s experience working with and developing young players could be to his advantage.

The former Dundee United, Rangers and Everton defender was employed by Livingston as a youth coach until May 2007 and also took on the role of caretaker manager on three separate occasions in West 

He coaches both youths and first-team players at St Johnstone but is keen to step up to a managerial role having also coached at Inverness Caledonian Thistle and East Stirling.

Hughes arrived for work in the north east of England yesterday after a hectic 48 hours. He had resigned himself to missing out on the Hartlepool position with Phil Brown, the former Derby County, Hull City and Preston North End manager, the firm favourite.

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Brown attended Hartlepool’s reserve game against Gateshead on Monday night and told supporters he was United’s new manager.

However, talks collapsed the following day when he was informed he could not hire Brian Horton as his assistant and would be working with the caretaker manager Micky 
Barron instead.

That left a managerial void and Hartlepool turned to Hughes to fill it.

The former, Falkirk, Celtic and Hibs defender succeeds Neale Cooper with Hartlepool currently bottom of League One, six points adrift of second bottom Shrewsbury Town.

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Edinburgh-born Hughes is convinced he can transform United’s fortunes and chief executive Russ Green said: “We’re convinced we’ve got the right man in place to take the club forward.

“Everybody knows that this appointment was a crucial one for the club so we have taken our time, assessed our options and John is the choice we are all extremely happy with.

“He has a vision for the football club, he has a passion and a drive to succeed and we hope that the fans will be as excited as we have to have him in place.”