Who is Gary Holt? Former Livingston manager bursts into contention for Shrewsbury Town job

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 27 November 2020, 11:14

As soon as Shrewsbury Town revealed that Sam Ricketts had left the club, former boss Paul Hurst was inevitably linked with the vacancy.

Hurst did a fantastic job at the Shrews over the course of a couple of seasons, but since leaving the club his path hasn’t quite continued on an upward trajectory; the 46-year-old is currently jobless and looking for his next bite of the managerial apple.

Hurst was instantly installed as the favourite in the next Shrewsbury manager market, however a new name has since burst into contention: Gary Holt.

Below we profile the Scot...

He’s just left Livingston

Gary Holt, 47, resigned from his position as Livingston head coach on Thursday, a decision that swiftly triggered his move in the Shrewsbury manager market. It didn’t take long for his odds to dwindle, as he went from 25/1 to 8/1 to 7/4, and now he’s currently odds-on.

Holt can look back on a very impressive 27 months at the helm of Livingston, during which he showcased his managerial ability on a shoestring budget. 

In his first season he steered his side to 9th upon their return to the Scottish top-flight, then after a handful of astute signings he catapulted the club to 5th last season, before play was halted due to the coronavirus; it was Livi’s second highest standing in the club’s history, after a 3rd place finish in 2001/02 under Jim Leishman. Not bad for a club where survival is key.

Holt’s side thrived on home soil in particular, with only the top-two Scottish giants accumulating more points on their own patch.

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From Livingston to Shrewsbury?

This term Livi have won all four of their League Cup matches to date, which has taken them into the last-16 of the competition. However, their league form has taken a bit of a hit, with Holt leaving the club 10th in the Scottish Premiership with 12 points from 15 matches.

"This is not a decision I have taken lightly," he said in a club statement.

"But I feel it is the right time for me to step away. I am proud to say the work we have done over the past two years has resulted in great success, both on and off the pitch."

The current campaign may not have gone to plan, but Holt can look back on an extremely impressive tenure, with the top-5 finish one of the managerial performances of the 2019/20 season.

Where else has he managed?

The Scot began his coaching career in England, at former club Norwich City, where he became assistant Academy manager back in 2010, then Head of Professional Development. 

He later returned to the Canaries in 2014 as a first team coach to Neil Adams, then Alex Neil; and helped propel the club into the Premier League.

In between those coaching spells, Holt opened his own outright managerial chapter at Scottish First Division club Falkirk (April 2013).

READ: A fan’s perspective on all things Shrewsbury Town

“I had applied for every job under the sun,” Holt said at the time. “That is one of the downfalls of going down the coaching pathway when you finish playing. I always wanted to be a manager and thankfully Falkirk have given me that opportunity.”

Holt spent just over a season in charge of Falkirk, with whom he led to back-to-back 3rd place finishes in the Scottish Championship. 

In what proved to be his only full season (2013/14) at the Bairns, a return of 16 points from six games saw his side head into the final wave of fixtures in contention to win the title. Despite claiming a final-day victory, they finished 3rd, and were then beaten in the Premiership Play-Offs.

What’s his style of play?

In a BBC Sport article, journalists Martin Watt and Stephen Couse described Holt’s Livingston as the following:

“The robust, direct style of Livingston is not always pleasing on the eye, but is ruthlessly effective - and much of the team's success this season is down to their home form. The modest Tony Macaroni Arena and its plastic pitch has become a Lion's den where opponents are chewed up and spat out.”

While this analysis may not exactly be music to the ears of Shrews fans. It must be noted that Holt was working with the second smallest budget in the Scottish Premiership, so he deserves immense credit for squeezing every ounce of talent from his players, with whom he transformed into a functional and cohesive unit. Meanwhile, only Rangers, Celtic and Hibernian scored more goals.

“Gary has told me that he doesn’t have a specific philosophy - some people might think that is wrong, some will think it is right,” Livingston midfielder Marvin Bartley - who is now favourite to replace Holt - told Herard Scotland earlier this year.

“But if he went to Celtic, he wouldn’t play the same way as he did at Livingston.” Speaking of Celtic, he was one of only two managers to inflict a league defeat upon the club last season. “I went home, did the ironing, went to Tesco’s, got my dinner,” Holt would later tell The Times after masterminding the win.

23rd-placed Shrewsbury have been far too open and vulnerable this season. They’ve conceded in 11 of their last 12 league games, and currently have the joint-fourth worst defence in the division. 

Shoring up those holes and making the team’s presence felt physically is surely the first task of whoever they appoint.

He sports a Kilmarnock tattoo on his leg

Finally, Holt has a tattoo celebrating his 1997 Scottish Cup triumph as a Kilmarnock player, which just so happened to be a 1-0 win over the club he would go on to begin his managerial career at: Falkirk. He must have had to cover that up during his spell in charge!

Regarding the tattoo, he told Killiefc.com...

“I was totally sober when the tattoo was done, although maybe I should blame the drink. I had a moment in which I thought, ‘I’m going to do it, this is a good idea’. It was a good idea at the time, maybe not now.”

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