Murdo MacLeod has urged Livingston not to change the style of play which has won back-to-back promotions, taking the West Lothian club from League One to the Premiership.
Although bitterly disappointed to see Partick Thistle – whom he managed in the mid-1990s – relegated, the ex-Hibs skipper admitted David Hopkin’s side were well worth their play-off victory over the Firhill outfit. And now, with Livingston unable to spend the sort of money they had last time they were in the top flight, he believes they’ll have to rely on their fighting spirit .
“I thought Livingston were outstanding,” said the former Scotland midfielder. “For a team that had just come out of League One to then come out of the Championship and go into the Premiership, it’s a great achievement.
“They bullied Thistle. They went into every challenge with conviction. Their work-rate, too, was brilliant. People have always spoken about them being in the faces of the opposition. But you’ve got to work to do that. You’ve got to be fit, you’ve got to have that energy to go and close the opposition down.
“That’s what they managed to do over the two games and that was so important for them. Over the last few years it’s always been one of the sides running out of steam before the last game, but Livi were up there for all of it.”
MacLeod believes Livingston were probably the last team Thistle – “a nice footballing side” but unable to score or defend – would have wanted to face as they fought for their Premiership lives, saying: “Livingston’s reputation was of fighting spirit, the size of them, the way they play football.
“That was always going to be a big problem for Thistle. Livingston were fantastic in the first game. In the second one at Firhill you could see their game plan. From the first touch their goalie was diving down to waste a few more seconds. Every time he did that he brought the game a bit shorter.”
Now, insisted MacLeod, simply trying to stay in the Premiership will present a major battle for Livingston. “They don’t have that money this time. Their achievement was just getting there.
“Everything between now and the end of next season is a bonus for them. I know one or two players signed up thinking it was just about staying in the Championship – now everything has changed for them.
“They’ve just got to go back to what they’re good at, battering teams, working them hard. That’s all they can do. They can’t afford to go out and get classy players. Just get players who will fit into their squad.
“I was listening to player interviews after the win over Thistle. All of them spoke about how someone could be straight out of the door if they walked into their dressing-room and thought they were better than the rest.
“That’s the atmosphere at Livi. It’s a clear message about their team spirit. This is a challenge for what I’d term a team-spirit team.
“Obviously it could be a very tough season where they get detached and heads go down. The first ten games they’ll be flying about and going into everything. They’ll be wanting the whole world to know they deserve to be up there, which they do.”
n Murdo MacLeod was speaking at the SPFL Trust’s Annual Golf Day at The Carrick. All proceeds raised will be used towards mental health first aid training in Scottish football in partnership with the Chris Mitchell Foundation. For more information visit www.spfltrust.org.uk.