Livingston Boss David Martindale on Chances of Finishing in the Top 4, VAR in Scottish Football, and Potential European Football for Livi

I would like to congratulate you on winning manager of the month, that must have been a nice moment for you.


“Yeah, it was good, it was good to get recognised, but the awards are team awards. They’re for the players and staff, and I’m just the lucky individual who picks it up and gets his name on it, but it is recognition of everyone at the football club, to be fair.”


You recently played QPR in a friendly, who are a very solid Championship side. That must have been a good workout for the players.


“Aye, It was two strong teams out. It probably took us 15 mins to get to grips with the game. I thought the intensity of how they moved the ball and pressed it was very good. The movements and combinations were all very good, but we more than held our own and made a few good chances in the first half, which we probably should have done better with. 


We found ourselves 2-0 down in the first but had two or three very good chances ourselves. We probably should’ve done better with them, to be fair. In the second half, both teams changed nine players, but it was still two very strong teams. We got ourselves back in the game, made it 2-1, had a stonewall penalty denied, and were probably the better team in the second half. Big Lyndon [Dykes] played the second half against us, so that was nice. 


We managed to get a young boy who was playing grassroots football six months ago in Livingston with one of the local boys’ clubs and managed to get him ten mins on the park at Loftus Road, and he is now playing with our under 18s, so it was a good day.”


That must have been nice for you to catch up with Lyndon Dykes?


“Aye, it was brilliant as I’ve not seen Lyndon face to face since I caught him at a Scotland under 21s that the Scotland seniors came to when we were at the Oriam at the Tynecastle. So, I saw him maybe eight months ago, something along those lines.


But it was really, really good to catch up with him because I’ve not seen him face to face, and it was nice to see him back in our environment with the staff and Big Marv [Marvin Bartley] in the changing room with the boys, so it was really good to catch up with him.”


Would you say having a month’s break from football has been beneficial for the players?


“It’s not really been a month break for us, as we’ve still been training, but the boys got a wee bit of time off. I can only speak for me, and I don’t know how everyone else sees it, but time will tell going back into it, and you may find some hamstring and muscles going back into this if boys haven’t done it right off the park. We only gave the boys nine days off and have been back in training since November 22nd.”


When you look at the Old Firm, their players have been dropping like flies due to playing more games than teams who aren’t competing in Europe. Would you agree with that?


“I don’t necessarily agree with that one. The Old Firm never took part in the League Cup, and we had four games at the start of the season because of the League Cup. Once the Old Firm went into the Champions League stages, they caught up, and they played a little bit more, and the levels of opponent was far greater than what we were playing in the League Cup.


It swings in roundabouts and how you manage that squad, and for me, it’s all about your training loads and playing loads and getting that balance correct, and again I think you’ve got to be a wee bit lucky with injuries. You look at Hearts – is there really a lot they could have done?


A lot of their injuries were contact ones, so you can’t do anything about a contact injury, whereas with muscle injuries, you can look at the training loads on a day-to-day basis, so we’re very good in how we operate at the club. We don’t like peaks and troughs, and try and stay in that middle area, so there isn’t many too highs and lows in training loads in what the boys do in the training week.”


Would you say you’re a fan of the League Cup group stage format?


“I don’t mind it; if you asked me my personal preference, I think teams, maybe not so much ourselves, lower league teams should 100% be allowed to play trialists in it, and I would be looking at clubs Championship level and downwards, as they’re trying to get their squads together where there are part-time teams too. So, I think it would be beneficial to allow trialists to play in the group stages of the League Cup. 


It’s debatable if that should apply to Premiership teams who have a wee bit more financial muscle and can afford to keep bigger squads. But I definitely feel it would be a lot more competitive and a bit more usual for the lower league clubs if they were able to play trialists in it.”


You’re having a good season so far, currently 4th in the league table. What would you attribute that success to?


“Just the collective at the club, continuity, and this is my ninth going into my tenth season at the club. We’re lucky we have continuity now because last season there was a big turnaround at the club, in terms of the playing squad, staff, and recruitment, to be honest. We had lost two or three vital members of staff and a huge amount of players.


This year, we managed to keep the majority of the players we wanted to keep in the building, the only one I could probably say hand on heart that I lost that I would have liked to have kept was probably Alan Forest. In terms of staff, I brought in Gary Maley as the goalkeeper coach purely through my relationship with him over the last 25 years. It was not a reflection on Stuart Garner, who was here the previous year, but I am really happy with the staff at the club and the continuity with the playing and staff department, as that has been crucial.”


What would you say has been Livingston’s stand-out result of the season so far?


“There isn’t really one that sticks out, but a nice way to win a game of football was Kilmarnock away. 2-1 down, and we managed to steal a late winner, and that was probably one in the changing room where it was very buoyant.”


I was at the Rangers game where you drew 1-1 at Ibrox, and I felt you were unlucky not to win. What were your thoughts on that game?


“That game felt like a defeat, to be honest, and I had to lift the boys after that in the changing room. I thought we were really unlucky, but we played roughly around 15-20 mins plus, with the injury time and the VAR time, and played a lot of that game with ten men, and unlucky to not come away with 3 points. But when Rangers scored that equaliser, we had done well to hang on and get the point.


That was the first game with VAR, and it came to bite me in the bum, so to speak, because, in a normal game, I think it’s a yellow card and keep 11 men on the park and probably win that game of football – VAR will have a big outcome in a lot of games this season.” 


Rangers hit 73 crosses into the box, and your defence was dealing with them. Did you know Rangers would cross the ball into the box as much as they did?


“Crosses don’t win you games of football, they help you win games of football, but you’ve got to have someone getting on the end of them. We gave up certain areas of the park, and I was more than happy to concede that territory. The gameplan worked just about to perfection, you could say, the boys tactically were brilliant on the day, defended the 18-yard-box caused a few problems ourselves.


Again, the dynamics of the game changed; we became a little bit safe in the game after scoring an early goal and then defended that lead, whereas I think the longer the game went on, it didn’t help us either as we could’ve been a bit more aggressive in terms of our positioning when the game was 0-0 we could’ve been trying to find that winner.


“I think scoring so early naturally, the boys defended a wee bit deeper, and to be honest, it became a wee bit comfortable as the goalkeeper didn’t have many big saves to make, as generally when you go Ibrox and Parkhead, you’re watching the game through your fingers at times with the amount of shots the opponents have at the goal and the keeper pulling off saves and blocks on the line but it wasn’t really one of those games. We gave up territory that we knew we were happy to give up.”


What are your chances of finishing in the top 4 this season?


“We need a wee bit of luck, to be fair, and we’re as good as everyone else is outside the top 3. Don’t ask me who the top 3 is going to be, but at this moment in time, your top 2 is Celtic and probably Rangers, and my gut is telling me Hearts if Robbie [Neilson] can get all those players back, all be it Jim [Goodwin] is doing a fantastic job at Aberdeen. There isn’t much in it with the rest of us, and we’re just trying to stay up as high as possible in the league.”


What would it mean to you if you brought European football to Livingston?


“It would probably be my proudest moment in football, and since coming into Livingston, we have had a few of them. Back-to-back promotions, taking the team to the League Cup Final, winning the Challenge Cup. So, we’ve had a few very, very big moments here, but taking Livingston to European football would be incredible, and it would probably be my finest, for me. For me to think of my wife, my daughter, potential family members, the players, and their families travelling to watch Livingston in Europe would fill me with a lot of pride.”


The January transfer window is coming up. Could we see you doing any business? If so, what areas what you strengthen in?


“Probably offensive areas, more so than anything else. Probably looking at one defensive area, and there are probably two or three boys that are looking to go out on loan. There isn’t a lot of money to spend, and this is probably one of my tightest windows in terms of budget. I don’t think I am going to be that active in the January window, and all be it saying that, if I can try and get two or three out and I can then try to get two or three in, but that is a wee bit easier said than done.”


Former Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths has been training with you since returning from Australia. Was it ever a possibility that you could’ve signed him?


“No, I wasn’t looking for Leigh’s profile, first and foremost. Secondly, I probably couldn’t have afforded him. Thirdly, it’s not really a position I need as I’ve got Bruce Anderson, Joel Nouble, and Kurtis Guthrie.  I’ve got three number nines in the building, and the last I want to try and do is bring another number nine into the building.


It was never really a viable option on my part, and I kind of explained that to Leigh, that I just wanted to try and help him get fit and play football as soon as possible, and that remains the objective at this moment in time.”


Have I seen that he was apparently linked with a move to Morton?


“I don’t know, but I know him and Dougie [Imrie] have spoken previously, but I couldn’t tell you anything about that.”


Joel Nouble has been one of your standout players this season. Is there any chance he could go in January if the right offer came in?


“Nope, not at all.”


You’ve got Stenhousemuir in the Scottish Cup; you’ll want to do well in that competition this season.


“It has probably been the biggest disappointment in my nine years at Livingston – the biggest disappointment has probably been the Scottish Cup. I had a lot of success personally in the Scottish Cup at the amateur level, out with that junior level and professional level, not as successful, and we need to kick on a wee bit.


I would like to kick on personally, but for Livingston Football Club, we really need to kick on and progress in that competition. I think we were one game away from the quarter-final, and we lost to Aberdeen on a penalty shootout. The Scottish Cup has been one of my biggest disappointments.”


How do you think VAR has been so far in Scottish football?


“Go with the flow, and I think it will be good for Scottish football. It’s been good for helping the officials, but we must iron out the handball issue because, at this moment in time, 99% of handballs in the box are given as penalties. So, if that’s the road we are going down as long as it’s consistent throughout the season but what I am finding is the consistency we are missing from the handball, it seems to be 99% of handballs are penalties.


If you probably showed a lot of these handballs back, most managers would debate over whether they thought it was a penalty or not. I am not saying the rules are changing, but how can the context of the rules and how people perceive the rules are so ambiguous that is what we need to change – there has to be a bit more clear and concise rules with handballs in the box.”


I think VAR has been fine so far in Scottish football, but sometimes it takes four or five minutes for a decision to be made which needs to be addressed. Would you agree?


“I know it is a work in progress, but why is it taking so long? I don’t get why it is taking so long. Let’s start making these decisions quicker. We should get the referee over to the monitor far quicker and let the referee make the decision where we get the two or three angles for him, let him see, and let him go. I agree with you on that one. Hopefully, that is going to get a bit more fluid as the more we use VAR, but I still don’t understand why it is taking so long.”


In the 2022 World Cup, they’ve increased the amount of stoppage time, where there have been 10-15 minutes added on. Would you like to see that in Scottish football?


“Is that not what we have been getting? I think we were playing Rangers until 5 pm at Ibrox. It’s becoming the norm – it’s becoming the norm. The 90 minutes are up, and you’re waiting to see how much time has been added on, and it could be six, seven, eight, nine minutes, and you’re nearly playing to 100 minutes now. You’re in the house with the World Cup on, away making a cup of tea, and you come back, and the clock is sitting at 100 minutes – it’s just football evolving, I suppose.”


The SFA has introduced new heading guidelines, where players are not allowed to header balls in training before and on match day. What are your thoughts on that?


“I think we have to go with the guidelines, but we have got to be very careful. Heading plays a large part in football, and we can’t ignore that, but again, we have to listen to the clinical studies that have been done. To be honest, we do very little heading of the football on a weekly basis anyway, other than the match day.


It’s probably not an area that we spend a lot of time working on – clipping balls into the back four and asking them to header it. It’s something we don’t do a lot of, to be honest. It’s not going to have a major impact on our training regime and how we go about training.


We have to be very careful because I think football at this moment in time, where we are looking at these studies that have been done, where the park [used to be] a lot heavier, the parks [used to be] a lot of heavier, and now the balls are lighter, and the parks are better where they aren’t carrying mud and water and soaking that in.”


By: Scott Bradley / @ScottBradleyX 

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Paul Devlin – SNS Group