BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
SCOTT PITTMAN reckons Livingston’s perilous descent into League 1 was the best thing that could have happened to the club as the Lions mount an unlikely charge towards the top flight.
Tough-tackling Pittman is one of the West Lothian outfit’s longest-serving players, racking up 131 appearances since joining the club from Bo’ness United three years ago, and acutely remembers the devastation of relegation as their 2015/16 campaign ended with a playoff defeat against Stranraer.
However, Livi stuck with manager David Hopkin, who was charged with rebuilding the squad on a pittance. With a priority on young, hungry players, they secured an immediate return to the second tier the following season, romping to the flag by 19 points.
Should they defeat Dundee United in Friday night’s mouth-watering televised clash, they will be just six points behind the Paisley outfit in the race for the Premiership – and Pittman cannot help but consider how far they have come.
“To experience relegation was absolutely horrible for everyone at the club,” he recalled. “It was the last thing that any of us wanted. But, looking back, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to us.
“The club stuck with the manager [Hopkin] and he has done an absolutely unbelievable job since then. It forced us to completely rebuild and properly focus on coming back stronger.
“He brought in a lot of young players, got us playing some really good football and won the league straight away.
“We have just kicked on since then and you could argue that might never have happened if we hadn’t dropped into League 1. That winning mentality has just carried on into this season and the boys are absolutely flying at the moment.
“I suppose there is a little bit of surprise at how well we are doing, as I doubt anyone would expect a newly-promoted side to be sitting second in the Championship, but we are there on merit and won’t have any fear against Dundee United.”
Livi’s handsome triumph over St Mirren even prompted tentative talk of a title challenge, such was the way they dismantled Jack Ross’ previously dominant Buddies.
Pittman admits it is impossible not to cast glance towards the summit of the Championship table, and reckons United will also be nursing aspirations of claiming top-spot ahead of this evening’s encounter at Almondvale.
“That was probably our best performance of the season,” Pittman continued. “And, although we are not getting carried away, you can’t help but look at the league table. We just need to keep playing the way we are and who knows where that will take us.
“I think Dundee United will probably still think they can win the title as well, there is a long way to go. They were expected to be challenging towards the top of the league and wouldn’t have expected to be below Livingston at this point.”
As such, the underdog tag sits comfortably with Pittman, regardless of Livi’s blistering form.
“We played really well at Almondvale against United earlier this season and won 2-0,” he added. “So we know we can compete in that company and have a lot of belief in ourselves – but Dundee United are probably still the favourites.”