David Martindale described Livingston clinching a top-six spot for the second-successive season as an “unbelievable effort from the club”.
Saturday’s 2-1 win over struggling Hamilton at the Tony Macaroni arena, their first in seven games in all competitions, moved the fifth-placed Lions six points clear of St Johnstone in the Scottish Premiership with just one pre-split game remaining.
Livi striker Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ magnificent strike in the 16th minute was cancelled out by Callum Smith’s equally-impressive drive on the half-hour mark before midfielder Scott Pittman scored the winner before half-time.
Livingston finished in fifth place last season and Martindale, whose side lost the Betfred Cup final last month to St Johnstone, said: “The cup final defeat had a wee knock-on effect on us but we looked back to our best today.
“I think we could have scored a few more but the objective was top six and we have done that.
“It is a marathon not a sprint so we can forget about the last three or four games. Would we have taken this with five games still to go? Of course we would and I think this is an unbelievable effort from the club.
“A club our size is happy to finish 10th so to finish in the top six, two years in a row is incredible.”
Asked about the possibility of European football next season – as Scotland have five places – Martindale replied: “That’s the objective. I spoke to them there.
“It is a challenge for every one of us, myself included to ensure we do not finish any lower than fifth so that is going to be the objective going forward.
“I think the boys are more than capable of doing that.
“To be honest, I think against the so-called bigger teams, we seem to turn up and the style suits us.
“We are a team that is in transition. We are actually a very good footballing team and I think you will see that from us going forward.”
Martindale was coy on the absence of attacker Scott Robinson, who will be out of contract at the end of the season, as he has missed the last two games.
He said: “He was not available for selection today so there is not much more I can add to that to be honest.”
Asked if he would play for the club again, Martindale added: “I don’t know, hopefully but I don’t know.”
Hamilton remain one point ahead of bottom side Kilmarnock with six fixtures remaining, five after the split.
Manager Brian Rice, who lost defender Scott McMann to a hamstring injury on Friday, said: “The battle definitely goes on. I think you can see that.
“It’s a really hard place to come to to get a result at any time.
“You could see the boys out there battling for every ball, fighting their corner.
“We’re down to the bare bones and everybody out there is giving it everything they’ve got.
“That’s what you demand and that’s what it takes to be a Hamilton player. I thought we could have got a point out of the game.”