“I’m delighted to be back in football,” beamed John McGlynn after his appointment as Livingston manager back in September 2013. “It’s good to be a club like Livi – they’re renowned for playing good football. I know the way they like to play and that was part of the reason why it was a no-brainer to take the job.”
It’s easy to be wise after the event but from the very start, Livingston and McGlynn were always uneasy bedfellows. The club’s recent history might not be festooned with glory but the fanbase has been placated by their attractive style of play. First cultivated by John Hughes and continued by Gareth Evans, Livi’s approach was based around ball retention between nimble, technically gifted players; McGlynn, meanwhile, was almost the antithesis.
His reputation was built during six largely successful seasons at Raith Rovers. During his time in Kirkcaldy, McGlynn won the Second Division title in 2009, led the team to a Scottish Cup semi-final in 2010 and took the side to a second place finish in the First Division in 2011. His achievements that term saw him named as the SPFA Manager of the Year.
His triumphs were not built on expansive football, however. Although McGlynn almost took the club into the SPL, Raith were often one-dimensional and difficult to watch – while his spell at Stark’s Park was greatly appreciated by supporters, there was no real great sense of loss when he decamped to Heart of Midlothian in 2012 for eight turgid, forgettable months. As such, there were reservations when he replaced Richie Burke at Almondvale.
The early signs were surprisingly encouraging. Livingston lost just one of their first six matches and as November approached, a 2-1 victory over Dundee moved them into fifth – a solid achievement given they’d been marooned at the foot of the table six weeks previously.
McGlynn was getting more out of the side than his predecessor. Teenager Coll Donaldson was impressing at centre-back alongside Simon Mensing, while the irrepressible Stefan Scougall was continuing to attract scouts to West Lothian. In attack, Marc McNulty had overcome a lethargic start and would go on to score 18 goals over the course of the season.
But just as the manager was beginning to get the best out of his squad, he was obliged to sell his finest talents. Towards the end of January, Donaldson joined Queens Park Rangers for just over £150,000 and Scougall moved on to Sheffield United two days later for £160,000. Any Championship side would struggle without their two most influential players and Livingston’s form eventually faltered. The team sat within three points from a play-off place with six games remaining, but a late dip saw them finish the season in sixth.
The additional of Rangers, Hearts and Hibernian to Championship, coupled with Livi’s increasingly perilous financial state, meant that the current campaign was always likely to be a struggle. McGlynn was unable to augment last term’s squad – McNulty followed Scougall to Bramall Lane for little over £100,000 while other first team players including Martin Scott, Andy Barrowman and Danny Denholm were also allowed to depart.
As such, the summer recruitment strategy was critical, but there was no real enthusiasm towards their imports. Although Jordan White’s impact in the second tier with Dunfermline Athletic and Falkirk had been negligible, he arrived after a successful spell with Stirling Albion and Gary Glen – all work-rate and energy – was the archetypal McGlynn signing. A troupe of unheralded players also joined the club but seemed more like waifs and strays picked up to bolster the squad than anything else – Rob Ogleby (Wrexham), Michael McKenna (Mussleburgh Athletic) and Myles Hippolyte (Southall) offered little confidence going into the new season.
Concerns about their capabilities were justified after a poor start to the year, but of greater anxiety was the standard of play – the spectacle was even more reductive than anticipated. Back-to-front football can be tolerated when a team is getting positive results but as Livingston limped from one defeat to the next, the fans had had enough. Although the club made good progress in the Challenge Cup and will look forward to the final in April, three wins from 16 league fixtures was unacceptable.
The recent 5-1 win over Raith Rovers had hinted at an upturn in form but the weekend’s 0-1 loss at Falkirk – a match in which they failed to force Jamie MacDonald into making a serious save – was McGlynn’s last in charge. He will point to bad timing and misfortune for this season’s travails – the acquisition of Declan Gallagher from Dundee at the end of August was seen as something of a coup but he went on to miss seven league games after falling down a flight of stairs.
Then there were the club’s off-field misdemeanours. In August they were punished with an indefinite transfer embargo after allegations of undeclared bonus payments, and last month they were fined £10,000 and docked five points after defaulting on tax payments. Player-coach Mark Burchill will take charge of the first team until the end of the season but their future is unclear.
What now for John McGlynn? His character will have been bashed after this but he was working under difficult circumstances and can argue he was doing the best with the resources available. His success with Raith Rovers should hold sway with any potential employers in the future but his reductive tactics must be accompanied with results – offers at this level might be a little harder to come by in the future.