As Livingston get going in their 2020/21 campaign, it’s unit building, cross-country trips and pre-season training for one of their 19/20 stars.
Steven Lawless secured a move to League One Burton Albion after a brilliant campaign with Gary Holt’s side. It was his best ever return, 11 goals and nine assists from 38 games helping the Lions to a fifth place finish.
He’s never been down south before in his career. Starting out at Motherwell, he’s played for Albion Rovers, Partick Thistle and Livi. Now 29, he’s taken the chance to get playing in front of some fresh faces after 10 years of Scottish football.
“It’s been good, I’ve been travelling up and down for the last wee while,” Lawless told NTOF. “But this is the first week my family have been here so this is me down now. It’s been good meeting all the boys. I’m just trying to get used to being away from home as it’s the first time I’ve been away from Hamilton.
“My kids and wife have been up the road so it’s good to have a base. We managed to get a house and it’s quite hard to get one down here just now. It’s been tough that way but football-wise it’s been good to try something completely different.
“We’ve been back in this week. It’s been strange doing pre-season not in a big group but I’m looking forward to getting back in the games. Hopefully we can find a vaccine early doors as everyone is looking forward to getting back to normal living.
“It would be good to get that done and get fans back in as that was a big thing about moving down here as well. There’s different grounds you can go to. Sunderland is a big one for me. There’s big teams.
“I’ve played against the same teams now for eight years and I’ve played the exact same teams throughout my youth. I was buzzing when I saw the teams that came down as there are some big names, Charlton, Hull Wigan. I was used to usually one team going down and up. Even the teams going up and down were the same ones so it’s good to have new experiences.
“I’ve been close to England a few times, but things got in the way of it. There’s been more times I’ve been closer to going abroad. I’ve always wanted to try and achieve things in Scotland but I’ve never had any luck in the cups which is disappointing. But it was just getting predictable and playing against the same teams was getting too much for me. I’m just looking forward to a new challenge.”
Playing his best
A new frontier awaits this season but there’s been time for reflection on his time in West Lothian. After a lengthy spell with Partick Thistle, he was thrown out of his comfort zone with the Lions.
It all seemed to click for him playing under Holt, which can be said for many that have been at the club under his guidance. It certainly gave Lawless the platform to earn his big EFL move.
He’s been played in a few different positions throughout his career. Playing in direct winger roles under Holt allowed him to contribute more regularly in attack with a study backline behind him. It noticeably improved Livi’s attacking endeavors last term.
Getting plenty of minutes in his preferred position and style was something that really helped Lawless, drawing comparison to someone well below his level: “I think I was more mature. I maybe got into a bit of comfort zone and going to Livingston took me out of that.
“I was going into every single game with the mentality I was going to score or assist. It was my best return totaling them together and that’s what I’m trying to do, take that responsibility. Who cares if I lose the ball, every time I get it I’m going to try and create something. That’ll be the aim.
“I’m not comparing myself to Lionel Messi, but he loses the ball more than anybody in La Liga. But his numbers are crazy because every time he has the ball he tries to do something. So that’s what I’ll try and do, make things happen.
“A lot of people can’t turn as quick as me so I try and turn a lot. I feel more comfortable on the right and cutting in. That was where I played at Motherwell when I first broke through. I’ve been shifted about a bit. I feel like if I’d played that position my full career my numbers would be a lot better. If I’m playing there again I’ll get good numbers this season.”
Dykes won’t be the only one
It’s set to be a big season for both Lawless and Livi. For the winger, he’ll be looking to make his mark in his debut EFL season. For Livi, they’ll be looking to try and get as close to emulating last season’s fifth placed finish which Lawless contributed to.
Keeping key players will obviously be key for Holt, Lyndon Dykes one player linked heavily with a move to Rangers and various teams down south in particular. He’s one player that’ll eventually go for big money according to Lawless – and he won’t be the only one.
“The year before we were quite strong defensively and I played wing-back,” explained Lawless. “Last year we changed the formation and it suited me. I don’t know what clicked. I think we had the right recruitment and players playing in their actual positions.
“I felt confident going into the top six that we could have got the points to get us into Europe. I felt confident we would have achieved Europe. There’s nothing we could do but it’s going to be a bit strange looking backing on it. We could have potentially finished higher.
“They have brought in good players. Dykes suited us; he was great. He took me by surprise when he first came in as I hadn’t seen much of him. I actually played against him once and I always used to say this to him, I never knew he played. He’s come on leaps and bounds but I wasn’t sure what to expect at first. I don’t think we would have done as well if he weren’t there, he was a big player. He deserves a move when it comes.
“He doesn’t score every week but he’s playing for Livingston – we weren’t scoring every week. If you put him in a better team, who knows what his record would be like. I think he had a lot of assists as well, he does a lot of work. His performances against the bigger teams is maybe getting him the initial look. Then they’re looking at his other games.
“I’ve never played with a striker who has terrorised Celtic and Rangers’ centre-backs as much as he did. I think it’s well known that they all hated playing against him just because of his physicality. He’ll be a great signing for most teams.
“If you look at Livi’s previous years, they always progress. I’m sure they’ll be looking to beat the points total from last year. I’m sure they’ll do well this year. I’m sure they changed the shape again so it’ll maybe take a wee bit of time for that to kick in. I’m sure they’ll kick on again as they’ve got boys in that team who, with all due respect, shouldn’t be at Livingston. They are very good players and there’s more than Dykes that will get a move soon.
“I’m looking forward to a new challenge and taking last season’s form into this season. That’ll be the main goal. I don’t really know much about the league but I think you go into every season wanting the best. So I’ll be aiming for the play-offs, minimum.”