BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
GARY HOLT insists any footballer should look in the mirror if they fail to make the grade in the game as he hailed the work ethic and honesty behind Livingston’s sensational start to the season.
Holt, 45, was named Premiership manager of the month yesterday after guiding the Lions to three wins and a draw in September, including magnificent victories against high-flying Hibernian and Rangers.
Following Saturday’s draw against Motherwell, Livi sit in fifth spot in the top-flight, just four points adrift of league leaders Hearts – a remarkable feat for an outfit written off in many quarters as relegation fodder before a ball was kicked.
Players such as Scott Pittman, signed from Junior side Bo’ness, Shaun Byrne, Alan Lithgow and Keaghan Jacobs were at the club when they were in League 1, while Scott Robinson and skipper Craig Halkett were formerly on the books of Hearts and the Gers respectively.
They have a sense of personal responsibility that Holt believes is sorely lacking in the sport and he has no doubt that has been pivotal to their rise.
Holt said: “It’s about that fire in the belly that you need to have. There are too many footballers in this world that think it’s always someone else’s fault when they don’t get a chance, someone else’s fault if someone is shown the door.
“If you are getting an answer you don’t like, then look in the mirror.
“That’s what I say to the players: look in the mirror and ask yourself ‘did I do my job?’ If it was ‘yes’ then that’s all I ask. Go to bed and sleep easy. Results will take care of themselves.
“There are no airs or graces here. If you have an ego then leave it at the door, because it’ll not work at this club. Simple as that. This is a working environment, we all go to work to get paid, so they need to earn it.”
That willingness to graft was evident from the moment Holt arrived at the club to succeed Kenny Miller at the helm in August.
However, the former Falkirk manager reckons that has now been combined with a belief among those players that – little more than two years since they were kicking off a League 1 campaign against the Stranraer – they belong alongside sides like Celtic, Rangers and Hearts.
He continued: “Their energy, hunger, and desire were at the very top level. That is what sets these guys apart. That is built on two years of success and now they believe they deserve to be here.
“At the start of the season it was all new and there was an element of ‘am I comfortable in these surroundings? Maybe not’. Now they know they belong here and have the ability and desire to match the people they are playing against.”
Nevertheless, as Holt picked up his gong, he was adamant that Livi are still among the favourites for the drop.
He continued: “I’m pinching myself, but we don’t alter anything. We know where we want to be and we need as many points as we can get.
“As soon as we can get those points, the better. Then you can maybe relax and adjust the bar, but right now we know where we need to be and how we can get there.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s eight games in. We want to buck the trend of being relegation favourites – but we still are. We still will be. We are not out and out miles in front of everyone. We are not 20 or 30 points clear.
“Four wins in a row and someone else is sitting here as manager of the month and I’m on the other end of it! I would take this position in May.”
Speaking to the media ahead of their win against Rangers last month, Holt confessed that he considered life on the dole during his time out of the game that followed his departure from a coaching role at Norwich.
After all the failed interviews and introspection, however, he appears to have found a role at a club that suits him down to the ground.
He smiled: “Was it circumstances? Was it luck? I don’t know, but it does seem a good fit. I’ve always said I would rather be lucky than good. I feel lucky at the moment.”