James Penrice has been a part of the Livingston side which has taken the Championship by storm this season. After winning League One last term, the Lions have made a tremendous start to life back in the second-tier of Scottish football, with Livi sitting fourth, seven points off the top of the table with a game in hand.
Penrice, 18, was on loan with East Fife last term, before joining David Hopkin’s men for this campaign, on a 6-month-loan deal from Premiership club Partick Thistle:
“I was happy enough when I returned in the summer with how I was getting on. I had played in a couple of matches at the beginning of the season but then the chance came up to go to Livingston and I felt that was the best thing for me, at that time: I felt I needed to keep playing games rather than sitting on a bench every week considering I had been starting matches most weeks for East Fife. There was a chance for me to go on loan at the start of the summer, before I even went back for pre-season with Thistle, but, it got to the point where I wanted to get out on loan and get more game time.”
Ironically, the full-back came up against the Lions in his first appearance of the season, with Alan Archibald’s side in the BetFred Cup.
“We didn’t play well at all, that afternoon. Livi were really good and they probably should have won the match to be fair. When I knew I was joining them, I knew we had a good chance of doing well in the league considering what I saw of them in that game. I had a feeling we wouldn’t be fighting relegation and thankfully that is the case right now. We are a good team and I am happy that is where I decided to go.
The playing style really suits me and I think it has helped me improve as a player in lots of different ways. I really liked what the gaffer had to say, too. He told me we weren’t looking at positions, we were looking at points. That is the way we have approached this season and right now, everyone’s focus is purely on reaching our the points target we have been set. For me, that is the best way to look at it as then your head doesn’t get filled with nonsense. It doesn’t matter where we are in the table because as long as we know we are hitting or bettering our points tally for that quarter, we know we are on track to achieving our aims this season.”
In Penrice’s first five games, he was unbeaten before Dunfermline defeated Livingston at East End Park.
“Even though we were on a really-good run, we only looked at things from a game-to-game basis. Nobody was in the changing room saying “because we have beaten them, we will do this” or “we will definitely beat them” as we know how hard each game will be. We just need to focus on our own game as if we can put in a good performance, then we know nobody will like to play against us – you can see that as the opposition don’t always play nice, passing football: they usually have got to adapt to counteract us and the way we play. I have only lost one game, in the matches that I have played in. Everyone is capable of beating each other; just look at the Queen of the South score at the weekend [against Dunfermline, 5-2] and you wouldn’t really predict that as Dunfermline were pushing for the league. It just shows you that you can’t take your eye off the ball in the Championship or you will get punished.”
Despite being a left-back by trade, the youngster has become part of Livingston’s midfield in recent weeks.
“It came about ahead of the Falkirk game a few months back. We played Hibs in the BetFred Cup but I was cup-tied so when we done an 11 versus 11 match in training and I was put in midfield for the ‘other’ team. He [David Hopkin] must have seen something in me in that position, as, he threw me in against Falkirk and I have been there mostly ever since.
I would probably say on the ball, it is a lot different. At left-back, I only usually need to look to my right but in the middle of the park you need to know what is around you from the right and the left. It is harder because you don’t get as much time on the ball, either, so, I had to adapt my game to be quicker in what I was doing to make sure I didn’t lose possession. Getting the experience of playing in a different position will help me in the future, I feel, as I have shown I am adaptable. It has brought my game on massively too, so, whether I stay in centre-midfield or I go back to left-back, I have improved as a player and that can only be a good thing.”
Penrice has also scored his first senior goal while on loan with the West Lothian side.
“It all went too quick! It was a great ball into the box and I just ran to the back-post and stuck it away. It was a good moment for myself, but, the most important thing was that we won that game. I missed the next match against St Mirren as I had a wee knock from the Queen of the South match and then we have had the last couple of weeks off due to the weather. That hasn’t been ideal as we have been wanting to get back to winning ways; hopefully the weather will improve so we can kick on playing matches again. We need to try take quite a few points from these three games that are coming up this week, as, if we can pick up a good amount then it will help us reach our goals this season.
With the teenager’s loan spell coming to an end at the Tony Macaroni Arena in the coming weeks, Penrice is hoping he has done enough to be given a chance in the Partick senior side.
“I feel I done really well at East Fife and it helped me along in my career for going back this season to Thistle and trying to kick on. I have now went to Livingston in the Championship and played mainly every week so hopefully when I go back to Partick, they will see how much more I have progressed, which will hopefully see me get more regular game-time in the first-team. I would love it if I can go back to Thistle and play games. That is certainly my aim – it was always the idea to come out on loan, get game time then go back in January and try push on again. I just want to play football, so, if that doesn’t work I may need to get out on loan again, but, hopefully I can go back and continue enjoying my football.”