Belfast Telegraph

Gerard Lyttle can sense Cliftonville's rediscovered vigour

By Graham Luney

Whisper it quietly but a fresh wave of optimism has hit Solitude ahead of the new season.

Europa League success and an influx of exciting new talent has the Red Army once again believing that the Gibson Cup could be within their grasp.

After back to back titles in 2013 and 2014, Cliftonville's bubble burst a little and a fifth place finish during a power shift in north Belfast raised concerns.

And yet it's a measure of how far the club has travelled that a season which produced a fourth consecutive League Cup win and European qualification still left a feeling of 'we could and should have done better'.

The magic feet of Liam Boyce and Joe Gormley are long gone but there are signs of a new steel and resilience at Cliftonville with the arrivals of Chris Ramsey, Jason McGuinness, Jason Mooney and Ruairi Harkin injecting renewed confidence.

And it's also easy to forget that boss Gerard Lyttle is still a young manager learning his profession and, like boxer Carl Frampton, knows that if you want to be a champion you must take a few hits on the journey.

"There is real optimism about this season and I can detect it after talking with the boys," said Lyttle, whose side take on Ards at the Bangor Fuels Arena tomorrow. "There is a real buzz around the place because of the new signings. We have brought in quality rather than quantity and it's players who have been there and done it.

"They have the know-how and leadership qualities you need.

"As a young manager I'm learning a lot and you will experience difficult moments. This job isn't a smooth ride but now I'm excited about the group of players we have and the effort the boys are putting in."

Cliftonville's attempt to win three titles on the spin failed and the Reds are now hoping Crusaders have that feeling.

Lyttle added: "A good part of it is you need a bit of luck. Stephen Baxter (Crusaders manager) recognises that too. We were in the title challenge up until playing Crusaders on Boxing Day but then we hit a period in which decisions went against us and that's not sour grapes on our part.

"Things like that can affect you as a team and then you have to deal with injuries and suspensions. As the saying goes, I'd rather be a lucky manager than a good manager.

"The challenge for us is to make us title contenders again. All the teams want to be there or thereabouts and there's a strong desire to challenge Crusaders who retained the title and ran away with it a bit.

"Crusaders came in for some unfair criticism with regard to how they play but the art of winning football matches is not easy and they did it well.

"Hopefully this season we can bridge the gap and get closer to them."

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