How Livingston's top-flight relegation unfolded

There was no get out of jail card for David Martindale and Livingston this time round.

Having survived against the odds for five years in the Scottish Premiership, the West Lothian club have been sentenced to a return to the second tier with three games remaining having long become detached at the bottom of the table.

They had never finished lower than ninth since back-to-back promotions ended their 12-year absence from the top-flight.

But a 4-1 thumping away to Motherwell on Saturday means they are cast 10 points adrift, with Martindale admitting he has already started planning for life in the Championship.

So what went wrong and where does it leave Livingston's future?

Story of 'embarrassing' season

A respectable eighth-place finish last season masked trouble behind the scenes with Livingston projecting a £400,000 pre-tax loss for the financial year on top of the £800,000 for 2021-22.

It left Martindale complaining of a "difficult" summer transfer window in which he had "to shave a considerable number off the budget".

Experienced midfielder Stephane Omeonga was among the key exits along with defensive stalwarts Nicky Devlin and Jack Fitzwater.

Losing out on "six or seven targets to other clubs within the Premiership" added to the frustration presented by the usual high turnover of players.

But the Premiership season started promisingly and, by early October, they were up to sixth, having established a seven-point gap between themselves and St Johnstone at the bottom.

Indeed, Livingston rejected an approach for their manager from the Perth club after the Saints dispensed with the services of Steven MacLean.

However, after a 2-0 home defeat by Rangers on 12 November amid a run of seven straight defeats and 13 without a victory, Livingston found themselves bottom of the table - a position they have occupied ever since.

With second-bottom St Johnstone's improvement under Craig Levein piecemeal at best, Martindale still felt confident of catching one of the four clubs still within seven points of them in December.

Court room battles over the club ownership continued behind the scenes despite Baycup Ltd and sole director John McIlvogue being announced as the new majority shareholder in September - and the January transfer market passed without a noticeable boost to the player budget.

As County dispensed with Derek Adams and promoted former midfielder Don Cowie to interim manager in early February, the gap to second bottom was still six points and Martindale declared that steering Livingston away from relegation after "three years of hell" would be his "biggest achievement" as a coach.

The great escape never came close to becoming a reality as Martindale conceded "embarrassment" at being foot of the table.

What went wrong at Almondvale?

Martindale last week suggested "our biggest disappointment has been consistency", but it would be harder to pinpoint anything that has gone right for Livingston this season rather than what has gone wrong.

Martindale's side rank the worst in the division for fewest shots and shots on target, with a conversion rate of just 7.8%.

Defensively, Livingston have conceded the most goals - 63 being four more than Dundee who are next on 59.

With typical honesty, Martindale says he has made mistakes as well as his players, whose five errors leading to goals is the most in the league.

Martindale, quite rightly, suggests Livingston's need to punch above their financial weight had finally caught up with them but also admitted that "we've not covered ourselves in glory".

What next for Martindale and Livi?

Considering one of McIlvogue's key objectives when buying the club last year was to tie Martindale to a long-term contract, the 49-year-old seems likely to have his first taste of being a Championship manager next season.

"If the club want me here, I'll be here fighting and doing everything I can to get the club back to the Premiership," Martindale said post-match at Fir Park.

"For next year, the aim is to go straight back up. But we're not Hearts or Dundee United. We don't have the same budget. But I honestly feel we're capable."

Martindale has already been planning for a summer squad overhaul whether or not Livingston were relegated, with the expectation of up to 15 departures.

However, he suggested he will have "a really strong group of 12-13 and we need to build on that".

Indeed, Martindale's logic is that, having been competitive in the Premiership with a Championship budget for so long, they have sufficient funds to be competitive in the second tier.

However, off the park, owner McIlvogue's main task will be making sure Livingston do not enter administration for a third time in their history.

The Glasgow-based businessman with a portfolio of food and drinks companies last year famously saved Mortons Rolls from collapse before turning his attention to Livingston.

He immediately focused on a 10,000-seat stadium that is rarely filled - new town residents being notoriously reticent about supporting their local team instead of inherited previous allegiances.

Indeed, Livingston's average gate is the lowest in the top flight. Their total of less than 4,000 from a population 57,000 is about 400 fewer than Ross County attract from Dingwall's population of 5,500 and surrounds.

McIlvogue thinks he can resolve that by encouraging greater community involvement - and, pointing out that Livingston is the only club in Premiership that does not own its own stadium, expressed his desire to open discussions with owners West Lothian Council about a purchase.

He has already announced that the long-standing stadium name sponsorship deal with the Italian restaurant company Tony Macaroni will be replaced next season, with Almondvale being known as Home of the Set Fare Arena following a six-figure deal with a Bathgate taxi firm.

McIlvogue and Martindale will hope they can bake up the right ingredients to put the brakes on Livingston's slide out of the top flight and steer them on to the fast lane back to the Premiership.