Cliftonville chairman Gerard Lawlor announces new interim team
CLIFTONVILLE chairman Gerard Lawlor last night thanked the club's supporters for their "continued patience and understanding" over off-field disciplinary issues after announcing a new interim management team.
Highly regarded coach Michael Press will take the first team reins with assistants and former Reds players Barry Johnston and Marc Smyth following the departure of Barry Gray last weekend.
In an in-depth statement the Reds chief addressed a number of issues including what seemed an obvious reference to the conviction of Jay Donnelly for a sex offence last week.
The north Belfast club has been criticised for not taking definitive action over the club's striker who is awaiting sentencing for distributing an indecent image of a minor.
"I am well aware that it is not just on-field matters that have made things extremely difficult for our supporters of late," said Lawlor.
"I know many of you will have gone to your places of work or recreation and faced some unwelcome questions and accusations about your football club, none of which you have necessarily been able to address and deal with as you might have wanted.
"I have heard and read a lot of criticism of myself and the board and, while assuring our fans that I have considered all of it constructively, I would remind everyone that every decision we make is in the best interests of Cliftonville Football Club...
"I understand how frustrating these last couple of months in particular have been but you can rest assured that the best interests of our club guide everything we do and I will be very happy to engage with our members at our next scheduled meeting later this month."
While paying a heartfelt tribute to Gray who was relieved of his duties after last weekend's defeat to Dungannon Swifts - their sixth in seven games - he insisted that the team's season is far from over and still regards European qualification achievable.
None of the current interim management team hold a pro licence which means the club will need to appoint a manager who holds one within 60 days if they wish to retain and renew their European coaching licence.
The chairman added: "We are seeking applications, preferably by this coming Friday, January 25, and I would invite anyone interested to make contact with me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) – with an assurance that all communications will be received in, and treated with, the strictest confidence.
"We will then sit down as a board next week to review all applicants and will, as ever, seek independent advice and guidance from outside the club before making our next move in the process."
The Reds languish in sixth and have a lot of ground to make up to force their way into European contention.
"We are still in a very strong position regarding the Europa League play-offs," said Lawlor, "but nobody at the club is simply content to sit and wait until those games come around – there are league positions to be climbed, not least because of the importance of securing home advantage in the play-offs.
"I believe we have a very talented playing squad but it is undoubtedly one that has underperformed and has not done justice to themselves, our fans or our badge. I would implore our fans to come along to Solitude on Saturday, get behind ‘Presser’ and the team and show precisely what the Red Army are capable of."
MEANWHILE, having edged the first of three big meetings with Crusaders in the space of less than three weeks, Linfield will have the chance to tighten their grip at the top in Newry tonight (7.45pm).
David Healy’s side got the better of the top-two clash at the weekend thanks to Jordan Stewart’s lobbed finish after just four minutes. That proved the only goal, settling an encounter that was feisty at times.
Victory in their game-in-hand tonight would push the Blues nine points clear of the holders with 12 games to play.