Marvin Bartley does not have a clue how he and his Livingston colleagues are going to shackle former team-mate Martin Boyle but he suspects they are going to have to find a way if they are to extend their unbeaten run over this weekend’s guests.
When the Livingston captain left Hibernian for the West Lothian club last summer, it was considered a step down but while there is a gulf in the size of the clubs, that mattered little when a line was drawn under the league campaign and it was the underdogs who occupied one of the top six spots while the Leith side had to settle for seventh.
In the end their head-to-heads proved decisive, Livingston enjoying the only win as the other two meetings ended in draws. But, Bartley does not believe that necessarily means his side have the measure of their Easter Road rivals.
“I don’t think we can say that. We are not particularly suited to play against anyone, we just get lucky from time to time,” he said in the self-deprecating style that has helped keep Livi’s feet on the ground and their minds focused. “They are a very good team and they have obviously strengthened over the summer and they have got a better Martin Boyle back as well. The break looks like it has done him the world of good and he made it pay last week against Kilmarnock, scoring two goals.”
While the West Lothian side had a poor start to the Premiership campaign, losing to St Mirren, Hibernian enjoyed a Boyle-inspired victory over the Rugby Park side.
It served as a reminder of Boyle’s potency, not that his friend required it. Although the two have enjoyed some merciless banter, Livingston’s midfield enforcer is seriously aware of the Australian international’s footballing attributes and can understand why bigger clubs are showing interest in acquiring him.
“He is probably looking at his next move as well so he wants to go out there to impress. Not only do we have to stop him, there are a lot of other players in that team with an awful lot of quality. It is about stopping more than one.”
He accepts he has a better chance of getting close to some than others.
“I speak to the boys an awful lot, we’re lifelong friends, but that makes no difference. If they are on the other end of the ball and I need to win it, I’m going in wholeheartedly. I expect them to do the same.”
Boyle’s rapid running could make that more tricky and the early-season demonstration of his finishing ability amplifies his threat. Bartley knows he will never hear the end of it if he permits a repeat of his opening day heroics, though.
“Definitely not. But I’m not sure I can stop him at this age,” he laughed. “Maybe five years ago I had more of a chance. We will try to find a way to go out there and stop him because we want a positive result. In order to do that we are going to have to keep Martin Boyle quiet. How we do that, I’m not quite sure but I will give it a go and so will the rest of the boys… although, I don’t think I can even catch him to kick him off the ball. He’s lightning.”
In the capital there is a worry that if Boyle is enticed to pastures new, he would leave a void Jack Ross will struggle to fill. Livingston have a similar concern as their main striker Lyndon Dykes continues to be linked with a move.
Confessing that he is never likely to step into the goalscoring breach – his bet with manager Gary Holt is to score three this season, including in training – Bartley believes the club will find a way to cope, though.
“Listen, the recruitment at the club has been good for a long time so I’m sure they will have a plan in place, should Lyndon go,” he added. “That is what this club is about, unearthing gems like Lyndon, giving them a platform to play and when they go and do their thing, you sell them on. That’s where we are as a club and there is no point in denying that. There’s no point saying we could reject huge bids because we can’t.
“That’s why players come here. They know they will be given the platform to play and if they do well they will be sold.
“If the move does come for him in this window, we will wish him all the best because every boy in that dressing room out-performed last season and they’ve earned anything that comes to them.”
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