With Gary Holt the first Scottish Premiership managerial casualty of the season, Livingston are seeking a new leader to steer them clear of trouble.
After two years of progress, a downturn in results prompted Holt to walk away, with the West Lothian side two places and four points above bottom spot.
So how do Livingston replace the man who consolidated them in the top flight?
A hard act to follow
When Holt was parachuted in as head coach following Kenny Miller’s seven-week tenure as player-manager in August 2018, Livingston were back in the Premiership for the first time in 12 years thanks to successive promotions. With the lowest average salary in the division, survival was the only target.
The former Kilmarnock and Scotland midfielder had an immediate impact, winning his first three fixtures in a seven-game unbeaten run to set the tone as his side finished 12 points clear of the relegation zone in ninth. The Tony Macaroni Stadium – and its artificial pitch – was becoming a fortress, with Livingston’s home record the fourth best in the top flight, although their away points haul was the poorest.
Last term, Livingston’s strengths crystallised. With future Scotland striker Lyndon Dykes acquired from Queen of the South to lead the line, their direct style of play had a focal point and reaped rewards.
A fifth-place finish was secured when the season was called and only the Old Firm collected more points at home than Livingston’s total of 28 – and just two defeats – from 14 outings. Champions Celtic had particular reason to dread entering the “Lions’ den” as they emerged with just a point from two trips.
But, with Dykes sold in summer, Holt’s side became rudderless this season without their bustling talisman. They have lost five of eight at home and again struggled on the road, with five points from a possible 21 the worst record in the division. In the end, a run of one point from five games resulted in Holt’s resignation.
He leaves having won 33 of his 93 matches at the helm, with 22 draws and 38 defeats.
A ‘cog’ in the structure
Livingston live by the mantra that no man is bigger than the club.
David Martindale, head of football operations and now also interim head coach alongside Tony Caig, hammered home that message in the wake of Holt’s exit on Thursday, insisting the “structure” of Livingston’s management operation is paramount.
Martindale also made it clear the club are content to wait for the right man for the job and that there’s no rush to find a replacement.
“At some clubs, when the manager leaves, there’s a full change in the department – physios, kitmen, players all go – that doesn’t happen here,” he said. “We’ve not got the finance for that.
“There’s a structure in place at the club that’s been successful, so why would we deviate from that?
“I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way, but with Gary not being there, nothing will really change.
“We’ll lose Gary’s input, but we have enough to carry on regardless and that’s how the structure at the club works. The head coach is a cog in the wheel and, when that one stops working, the others have to keep going.”
Contenders for the job
So who is in the frame for the vacancy? While Martindale didn’t exactly throw his hat in the ring, nor did he rule himself out.
He is already involved in coaching the first team and denied suggestions he has diluted his involvement on that front this season.
Having joined in 2014 as a coach, Martindale has served as assistant to previous incumbents Miller and David Hopkin – and has also previously acted as interim manager.
He knows the club inside out and looks to be the frontrunner, although he was remaining non-committal, saying: “All I’m interested now is Saturday’s game. I’ve been offered the job before but didn’t think it was right for my career development.”
The opportunity comes too soon for skipper and midfielder Marvin Bartley, 34, who has begun his coaching career by taking the reins of the reserve team but isn’t ready for the top job while still playing.
Other possible contenders include Tommy Wright, whose “preferred destination” was another Scottish club after leaving St Johnstone in May following a seven-year tenure that included Scottish Cup glory.
However, with Livingston having shown a fondness for confounding expectation in recent years, don’t rule out a leftfield choice.