Gerard Lyttle signals Cliftonville's title ambitions ahead of Linfield clash
Gerard Lyttle has thanked the Cliftonville players for ensuring his transition from coach to interim boss has been a smooth one and he expects the Reds to remain a trophy-winning machine.
Everyone at Solitude has just about recovered from the shock of Tommy Breslin's resignation last month but Lyttle was thrust into the spotlight and asked to steady the Reds ship.
The 37-year-old was grateful for the opportunity to take charge and despite talk of a looming crisis after the 6-1 hammering at Ballymena United that sparked Breslin's exit, the north-Belfast side won their next three matches - defeating Glentoran 1-0 in the Danske Bank Premiership, Ballyclare Comrades 3-1 in the County Antrim Shield and Ballinamallard United 2-0 in the league.
Cliftonville have invited applications for the manager's post but former player Lyttle currently holds the baton and he's tipped to win the race to land the job on a permanent basis.
The man whose passion for coaching began as early as his teenage years at Celtic is hungry for the Reds to remain one of the most feared sides in the domestic game.
"The players have responded superbly and their support has been appreciated," said Lyttle ahead of tomorrow's big clash at home to league leaders Linfield.
"I think this club should be in a position where it is challenging for the big trophies, including the league title.
"Cliftonville are not in this league merely to make up the numbers. We have shown over the last four years that we have been there or thereabouts when the trophies have been handed out and we want it to stay that way. I'm a winner and that's my mentality.
"The club have qualified for European football and after missing out last year we need to get back on that stage again. If we are not aiming for that then what is the point of us being here?
"I love the feeling of winning and I'm fortunate to have players in my dressing room who have won league titles and cups and they know what it feels like and what it takes.
"We want to continue along this path. Cliftonville are one of the biggest clubs in this country and we must be challenging for the league and other trophies every season. The board, the fans, the players and myself share that ambition."
Breslin's exit stunned Irish League fans. He is the club's greatest ever manager, steering them to eight trophies including two Premiership titles.
As first-team coach, Lyttle's contribution to that golden chapter cannot be underplayed but now his relationship with the players is changing and if there is any criticism it will come his way. There will inevitably be some testing times but don't underestimate his passion to keep the Red Army marching in the right direction.
"Ever since I was a teenager at Celtic, I had an interest in coaching and doing my badges," added Lyttle, who runs pizza restaurant 'Lyttle Italy' on Belfast's Antrim Road.
"I did courses during my playing career and I took the advice of Gerard Lawlor (the Cliftonville chairman) and set about getting my Pro Licence. That is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
"It's been an eventful time at Cliftonville but Tommy (Breslin) leaving was a shock to all of us. He clearly wasn't enjoying the job as much as he used to but his decision still surprised us.
"The first week after that was a bit chaotic but I was asked to help out the team and it's a privilege to do so."
A fourth win on the spin tomorrow and Lyttle might start thinking this management business is as easy as a gentle stroll up the Cave Hill.
"We enjoy facing Linfield and everyone is up for it," he added.
"Come Saturday it will be another game we all want to win but we must perform to do that.
"Linfield are a top side and as league leaders they are the benchmark to the rest of the league but it's still early in the season and there's a lot of points to go for.
"The players are buzzing and I am too."