Craig Halkett focused on Livi's strong case for defence

The Livingston mindset is simple: keep a clean sheet and they are guaranteed at least a point. The third best defensive record in the top flight, that has served them well on league duty, serving up six draws and providing the solid foundation from which they have amassed eight wins from the 21 games played since moving up to the Premiership this season.

The supposition is that the approach will have to change when they travel to Tynecastle to face Hearts in the Scottish Cup today but manager Gary Holt simply smiles at the idea that they have to go out to win this one.

“Do we? A clean sheet then we’ve a chance of bringing it back here. That’s the good thing about this game. We want to go and win the game. It’s a chance for us to impress. A chance for players to impress, live on TV against one of the best teams in the country at their place. But it’s the same beliefs, messages, adages, can we stick to what we’re good at?”

Knockout football dictates that, ultimately, someone will emerge from the tie victorious, be that this afternoon or after a replay. But, impressive so far this season, Holt and his players are happy to stick to their tried and trusted approach and hope that they can simply add the killer input at the other end.

“You still have your job – to keep a clean sheet – but when you go into a cup match you just want to win the game however you can,” says captain and leader Craig Halkett, who, along with his defensive colleagues, has been roundly praised for the way opposition strikers have been shackled.

“If your strikers turn up and you score more goals than you concede then you’re going to be happy but for defenders we want to go out and keep a clean sheet from the start,” adds the former Rangers player, who took a leap of faith joining Livingston, aware he would get more first-team football there and hopeful he would eventually get the top-flight experience he was being denied at Ibrox. Now Livingston trail only Celtic and Rangers in their miserly approach at the back, something that delights Halkett.

“It’s a great stat for defenders to have,” he adds. “Only the top teams in the country have conceded fewer goals than us. It’s something we all pride ourselves on.”

The 23-year-old puts it down to the fact that the defence knows each other so well, having come through the leagues together, notching up around 100 games as a solid unit but he admits there were some pre-season jitters as he questioned whether they would be up to the task against the best teams in the country.

“Of course,” he says. “It was my first season in the top flight and people expected Livingston to just go straight back down. It could have been the same with my career. I could have stepped up and found it too hard, too much of a challenge. There are players who find the Championship or lower is their level. So I knew it was a big season for me and it was one I was really looking forward to. Right now, I’m just thankful it’s going the way it’s going.”

From a personal point of view, instead of struggling he is thriving and it hasn’t gone unnoticed with Scotland caps being talked about. “It’s a great compliment to have,” he says. “As a player, you don’t look at those sort of things or expect it. You want it if it comes but you put it to the back of your head. In the future there might be a chance but there’s a lot of good centre-backs around at the moment – [Scott] McKenna, [John] Souttar, [Jack] Hendry, so there’s a lot of competition for places. I think it’s a wee bit wide open at the moment, so it will be who’s performing best at the time.”

Holding their own, Livingston sit just outside the top six, and have notched up some notable scalps, with Celtic, Rangers, Kilmarnock and Hibs all dropping points against them, and today’s opponents succumbing to a thumping 5-0 defeat the last time they met. So the top-flight newcomers fear no-one as they head into Scotland’s No.1 knockout competition looking for a prolonged run and dreaming of lifting the silverware in May.

Manager Holt did that as a player, when Kilmarnock bettered Falkirk in 1997 and uses it as inspiration now, even if his players tease him about the historical tales. “If I try to throw in stories and snippets to them, it comes back in my face,” said the West Lothian gaffer. “Aye, well done grandad, it was laced-up fitbas in those days. That sort of stuff. We have a bit of banter but it’s good that way because it’s a bit more relaxed. I get a bit of stick but I throw the Kilmarnock thing in quite a bit.”