Livingston boss David Martindale has backed James Penrice to take his career to the next level - and expressed his delighted that his players continue to catch the eye.

The defender, 25, is out of contract in the summer and is expected sign a long-term deal with Heart of Midlothian after agreeing pre-contract terms last week. 

It's the third time within a five-year period that a Livingston player has made the switch to Tynecastle after Craig Halkett in 2019 and Alan Forrest in 2022 - something Lions head coach Martindale has noticed - dubbing them a "feeder club". 

Asked to provide his reaction to losing his left-back, he confessed: “James is more than capable of stepping up and dealing with it, I think James has got another level in him (beyond Hearts), I really do.

“Sometimes players can underestimate the size of the job at Tynecastle, when you put that shirt on in front of those fans, it’s a big place to play football.

“It takes big players. I think it took Alan a wee while to settle but I think the staff and the fans can now see why Alan went to Hearts originally, he’s been brilliant for them.

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“Robbie Neilson took him in originally and I think Naisy (Steven Naismith) has been very good for him, he’s kicked on this season.

“Craig Halkett took to Hearts like a duck to water. He had a difficult start to life at Hearts but he’s had the captain’s band a few times.

“When I look at the players that have left Livingston to go to Hearts, it does nothing but bring a smile to my face. I genuinely mean that. I’m disappointed I’m losing someone of James’ ability but I’m absolutely delighted for him.”

Martindale also insisted he has no issue with throwing Penrice back into Livingston's Scottish Premiership survival battle when he returns from a hip injury next month.

“I can’t wait to get James Penrice back ready and playing for Livingston,” he continued. “I have got absolutely no qualms whatsoever about playing him.

“I think it’s a fantastic move for the lad. I sat James down three years ago and said ‘come to me, we’ll make you better, we’ll progress your career’, so when I found out Hearts were interested, I was delighted for him.”