Axe falls on Michael Gault in Warren Feeney clear-out
Warren Feeney warned at his first press conference as Linfield manager last week that he would be ruthless – and last night he backed up his words by releasing club captain Michael Gault.
And although Kyle McVey, James Knowles, Matthew Tipton and Mark McAllister have also failed to win new contracts, it is the decision to axe long-serving midfielder Gault which will cause the biggest shock in local football.
It is understood that Gault had been offered new terms by the club, but the parties failed to reach an agreement and the decision was made to let the 31-year-old leave Windsor Park after 12 years in the first team.
"As Michael Gault and I have been unable to agree on terms for a new contract for him, I've therefore had to inform him today that I'm not in a position to offer him a further contract extension at the club," said Feeney.
"Michael has given outstanding service to the club as a player and more recently as club captain.
"As manager I have to be prepared to take tough decisions when agreement cannot be reached.
"While I'm fully respectful of great service in the past, I'm fully focused on reaching agreement with players for the future of the club.
"I know I speak on behalf of everyone at the club when I offer my thanks to Michael for all his terrific service in the club's cause over many years.
"He has been a great ambassador for the club and I know everyone at the club will wish him well in all he does in the next stage of what has been an excellent career so far."
In all, Gault made 480 appearances for the club after making his debut 12 years ago and he was made club captain by David Jeffrey following the retirement of Noel Bailie three years ago.
Portadown are now favourites to sign Gault, having already taken midfielder Robert Garrett from the Blues.
The Ports will also be in the hunt to sign McAllister, although they will face competition from mid-Ulster rivals Glenavon.
The former Northern Ireland under-21 international was a £20,000 buy from Dungannon Swifts five years ago, but he has scored only seven goals in each of the last two seasons after being beset by injury and suspension.
Tipton posted a message on his Twitter account, to say: "After two years at Linfield my contract won't be renewed. It came as no surprise to me as football is a results/performance based business.
"I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the club even though it didn't work out as I would have wanted."
The decision to release Knowles is of little surprise, after he spent the second half of the season on loan at Ards, having played just 13 times for the Blues.
Kyle McVey leaves Windsor Park less than 12 months after joining the club from Coleraine having found his route to the first team blocked by Mark Haughey and Sean Ward as the season progressed.
Linfield last night confirmed that Aaron Burns has signed a extension to his deal. Although no length was given for the contract it is understood that he has signed for two years.
Aside from Garrett moving to Portadown, goalkeeper Alan Blayney has agreed to join Glenavon and BJ Burns signed a three-year contract at Crusaders.
Jamie Mulgrew and Peter Thompson have signed new deals to stay at Linfield, leaving Philip Lowry is the only out-of-contract player yet to re-sign or be released.
Four youngsters, TJ Murray, Sean Donnelly, Conor McMenamin and Rodney Brown, have all signed on for a further 12 months.
Feeney also made striker Sammy Morrow his first signing earlier this week.