Football/Soccer

Cliftonville boss Gerard Lyttle wants Reds fans to unite

Cliftonville boss Gerard Lyttle has guided the club to third in the Danske Bank Premiership ahead of today's home clash with Ballymena United

Danske Bank Irish Premiership: Cliftonville v Ballymena United (today, 3pm)

GERARD Lyttle has every right to feel miffed by the negativity that has swirled around his managerial reign at Solitude.

Following in the footsteps of Tommy Breslin was like taking over from Alex Ferguson.

But the key difference between the modest environs of Solitude and the grandeur of Old Trafford is that the Irish League club hasn’t had to go through three managers to reach relative calm.

Lyttle, a coach under Breslin and still just over a year in the hot seat, retained the League Cup and qualified for European football last season.

Currently, the Reds sit in third spot after inflicting the first league defeat on Linfield at Windsor Park last weekend in over a year.

It was one of those rare occasions Lyttle showed emotion after a game, punching the air and sharing the moment with the Cliftonville faithful.

Social media goes into over-drive after a Cliftonville defeat, but it was quite muted after Lyttle’s men downed the Blues last Saturday afternoon.

And yet, when you consider the post-Breslin road the club has travelled, Lyttle has performed better than any of his managerial peers.

Reflecting on last week’s 2-1 win over Linfield, Lyttle said: “I was happy for the team but also myself as well because of the doubters and critics.

“I don’t think I’ve got much credit this year in terms of where we are and what we’ve done and how we’ve got there.

“Some people said to me that I never showed that kind of emotion after a game before, but I don’t know if it was emotion or anger in me because there’s been a lot of negativity.”

For Lyttle, the negativity reached a new low in their stoppage-time win over Ballinamallard United seven days earlier.

Davy McDaid popped up with the winner in the last kick of the game to bank the points.

“I thought the Ballinamallard game was the worst,” Lyttle said. “We ground out a 1-0 win, they parked the bus, but we kept going right until the end and got the win.

“Crusaders do that every other week and when they do it they are praised, and some of our supporters say that’s a sign of a championship-winning team, but when we do it...”

The former Celtic and Cliftonville player says the most disappointing aspect of his time in charge has been the lack of understanding among a section fans as to the size of the job when Breslin stepped down in September 2015.

“If you look at it, I took over from the most successful manager the club has ever had in Tommy Breslin.

“At that time we probably had the best strike partnership [Joe Gormley and Liam Boyce] in the club’s history, we had really successful players, leaders – Barry Johnston and George McMullan among them.

“We didn’t qualify for Europe in the last season ‘Bressy’ was there, so I took over after the team was beaten heavily by Ballymena and after that we went on a run and we steadied the ship.

“We managed European qualification and obviously retained the League Cup. So, I’m looking back at it and thinking: is that so bad? I basically want every supporter to get behind us.”

Lyttle added: “There are different measurements of success. There is silverware, obviously, and there’s what you have to work with and what you do with that. If I had a bigger budget similar to Linfield or Crusaders then I’d be expected to win leagues.”

Only five players remain from the Reds team that won the league championship against Portadown in April 2014 – Stevie Garrett, Chris Curran, Marty Donnelly, Jaimie McGovern and Eamonn Seydak.

Despite the major overhaul of personnel over the last 12 months, Lyttle is happy with how the current squad is shaping up and is confident they can challenge for every available piece of silverware.

“We need to qualify for Europe every year because it’s financially important for the club and I want us to challenge for the league and all the cup competitions that we’re in,” said the Reds boss.

“Players with the right mentality is important too. It’s hard to replace leaders like Barry Johnston and George McMullan.

“Where do you get those players? But we’ve people like Jude Winchester, Ruairi Harkin and Jason McGuinness who can become our new leaders, our George McMullans.”

In between running first team affairs at Solitude, Lyttle and his wife Kellie have opened their second FeMale salon in two years, located at 65 Andersonstown Road, west Belfast.

The first salon opened on the Antrim Road two years ago.

“Life is busy outside of football,” said Lyttle. “Just last week Kellie won the New Rising Star in Business at an awards ceremony at the Galgorm Hotel. The two salons are doing really well and we’re receiving fantastic support from the local community.”

He added: “We offer everything from hair colouring to make-ups to nails to tanning and have wedding and hen party packages too. We also cater for male grooming. It’s just a pity I’ve no hair to groom these days!”

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