v Raith Rovers (25/04/15)
There were some expectations at Stark’s Park on Saturday that the match between Raith Rovers and Livingston was an opportunity to say a fond farewell to the West Lothian club from the Championship. They’d been teetering on the precipice of relegation for months, and with an unhealthy looking set of balance sheets, and dwindling attendances, you wondered how easily they’d bounce back from demotion to the third tier. Mind you, considering they’ve skipped more towns than the German Shepherd in The Littlest Hobo, I suppose they could always give that another whirl.
We did indeed get a long, drawn out goodbye, but no-one actually realised it at the time. This was to be Raith manager Grant Murray’s last stand, a rather sad and unedifying full-stop to his Raith career. Watching your team lose 4-0 to anyone is grim, but being scudded by a side that has a nickname as bad as “The Amber Machine”, is perhaps the ultimate indignity. Murray would receive his jotters on the Monday evening.
I wasn’t particularly interested in cheerio’s or arrivederci’s though, I was in attendance to run the rule over Scott Pittman, a player who’d been earning first-rate reviews since being brought in during the January transfer window. He, along with another winter acquisition, Darren Cole had appeared to galvanise the Livi Lions (how many nicknames does this club need, exactly?) but it’s Pittman’s arrival which had garnered the most attention.
The 22-year old had disappeared from the senior game after being on the books of Hamilton Accies and Alloa Athletic, dropping down to the Junior ranks with Broxburn Athletic, before joining Bo’ness United last summer.
Junior football doesn’t always have the best of reputations, regarded sniffily by some as the domain of has-been’s and never-will-be’s, but Pittman’s showings since he stepped into Livingston’s midfield has suggested that the Junior ranks still has the power to cough up a player or two.
His former manager Allan McGonigal once described him as “the best player in Junior football at what he does”, while his current boss Mark Burchill recently claimed after a 1-1 draw at Ibrox that he was “better than half the Rangers players.” Bearing in mind Rangers displays this season, the former comment is arguably higher praise than the latter.
Because of this I was eager to see what all the fuss was about, and the attack-minded midfielder started in the centre of a five man midfield, behind lone-striker Danny Mullen. He was alongside Burton O’Brien and Kyle Jacobs, with another K Jacobs, Keaghan, starting on the right-hand side and Myles Hippolyte on the left.
The bookmakers may not have agreed, but Livingston seemed a decent shout to earn all three points. Burchill’s side were desperate for the victory required to take their survival challenge into the last week of the season, whilst recently the Rovers players have just looked plain desperate.
The match certainly started in that vein and, encouragingly, the focal point of my attention, Pittman, was at the hub of most of Livingston’s positivity. Right from the off, it was clear he had an abundance of skill and was keen to demonstrate it, constantly taking up positions where he was in the right place at the right time to receive a pass. His first touch was assured, and whilst the majority of players at this level can do most things adequately, Pittman quickly exhibited that he could do them well, and at speed. It’s a talent that isn’t always apparent, even in the rarefied air of the Scottish Premiership.
Like a snooker player compiling a break, he appeared to be aware of what he wanted to do a move or two in advance, although admittedly, that task was made simpler when Pittman’s direct opponent was Liam Fox.
Both men may describe themselves as footballers, but by the same token, the T-1000 and T-800 models in Judgment Day could both be described as Terminators. The former Junior player might not have the ability to form his arms into jaggy pointy sticks, but he’d far more to his game than the clunking, limited Fox, who would go on to have a tough afternoon.
Pittman looks diminutive, at least from a distance and through my failing eyesight, but his arrival on the Scottish senior game has been so sudden that he doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page. With my normal font of all knowledge closed to me, I’d no way of telling his precise dimensions, so we’ll just have to settle on the notion that his height is below average.
That certainly isn’t a description which could be applied to his workrate though, and it was heartening to see that while he may have been the more attack minded and technically proficient of the central trio, he was still willing to muck in on the edge of his own penalty area, breaking up a rare Raith attack and dispossessing Ross Callachan in the opening quarter of the game.
With their midfield quintet, Livingston were running roughshod over Raith’s central four, with Burton O’Brien, Kyle Jacobs and Pittman taking it in turns to get forward to supplement Mullen up front. Perhaps the only surprise was that Pittman, who was by now the best player on show, wasn’t more involved in the four goals, which were almost identical to one another.
Starting in the game’s opening skirmishes, the Rovers defence, along with their goalkeeper Kevin Cuthbert, had demonstrated a complete incapacity to deal with any cross balls, a fact that Livingston cottoned onto extremely quickly.
As a result, Livingston’s wide players and full-backs became vital to them, as they played in a steady procession of crosses into the area. Due to Pittman’s height he was rarely the intended recipient. Instead, his main focus was to help break up Raith forays and sweep the ball to either flank for the next opportunity to make the Rovers backline look ponderous and foolish.
He may have been incidental in the goals, but he was still the most inventive on show. At one point in the second half he played a first-time one-two with Callum Fordyce before back-heeling it into the path of Mullen. It was cheeky, possibly even slightly impudent, but in a match where some of the protagonists on show required an extra touch to bring the ball under control, it was a show of skill which shone even brighter than Mark Burchill’s teeth.
His confidence grew in relation to Livi’s lead, and at one point he pirouetted away from Barrie McKay with a Cruyff-like turn in the middle of the park, a move which resulted in him being blootered in the leg. After running out of fair means to stop him, the on-loan Rangers man had resorted to foul.
He may only have been better than half the Rangers team a few weeks back, but on this showing he was far more gifted than anyone in the Raith gang. Football is often described as a simple game, which is misleading, as it’s only really straightforward for those who are proficient at it, and Pittman is certainly that. He never looked harried or rushed, never appeared to be uncertain, just received possession, sidestepped a challenge or two and found a team-mate. He was a constant outlet for Livingston, and a constant nuisance to Raith.
He made one obvious error in the match, caught dithering a fraction too long on the ball, and frittering it away to Callachan in the centre-circle, but despite holding a healthy lead, and having plenty amber shirts between the Raith player and goal, Pittman looked affronted at his own error, and took off in pursuit of Callachan, eventually nicking the ball off his toe in a manner which suggested he was desperate to avoid even a slight blot on his copybook.
The cynical side of my persona had turned up ready to be dismissive about Scott Pittman at the weekend. I was fully prepared to suggest that his plaudits had been too much, that his abilities had been bummed up, his potential exaggerated. Instead, after witnessing him, the compliments appear spot-on.
I may be wandering dangerously into knee-jerk hyperbole here, but if Pittman can continue the form he demonstrated on Saturday, then not only will he help keep Livingston in the division, he’ll go onto ply his trade at a far higher level than the fag-end of the Championship.
Of that I am certain.
The Football Critic
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