Rover and out as boss Gerard Lyttle quits Cliftonville for Sligo
Cliftonville have kicked off the search for a new manager after Gerard Lyttle's decision to leave the club and head south to revive Sligo Rovers' fortunes.
Sligo sacked Dave Robertson earlier this month and Lyttle couldn't resist the lure of proving himself in full-time management.
The timing of the move is far from ideal for the Reds as they remain hopeful of securing a Europa League place through the end of season play-offs.
Mal Donaghy and George McMullan will take charge of the north Belfast side in today's Premiership game against Glenavon at Solitude.
Sligo confirmed Lyttle's appointment in a deal until the end of the 2018 season.
Rovers chairman Martin Heraghty said: "Gerard joins us with a good track record from his time with Cliftonville. He is ambitious and eager to bring success to Sligo Rovers. Gerard shares the vision we have for the club."
Lyttle, who will be unveiled at a press conference today, had suffered some criticism from the Solitude faithful after a disappointing campaign and the 39-year-old has decided to embrace a new challenge in the Airtricity League.
Former Northern Ireland international Warren Feeney was also linked with the Sligo vacancy but former Celtic starlet Lyttle has been handed the role.
The Bit O' Red face Derry City tonight where caretaker Declan McIntyre will take charge before Lyttle steps into the dugout for the first time next Friday at Drogheda United. Cliftonville confirmed Lyttle's exit yesterday, stating: "Cliftonville FC wishes Gerard well in his future career." The Reds have been on a dismal run of just two wins in their last 10 games in the Danske Bank Premiership, including Tuesday's 4-1 defeat to Ballymena United and they sit in fourth spot in table.
Lyttle, who was appointed in October 2015 following Tommy Breslin's departure, helped mastermind a League Cup triumph last season - the club's fourth in a row - but a number of off-field issues this campaign curtailed the club's progress.
Another major success was persuading Joe Gormley to return to the club on a three-year deal after signing the striker on a pre-contract in January but a title challenge fizzled out quickly and now 26 points behind leaders Crusaders, it’s clear the Reds have been outpaced by their rivals.
Sligo are only nine matches into their 33-game League of Ireland campaign and second from bottom in the Premier Division table, leaving the Belfast man with a formidable task.
Former Northern Ireland Under-21 international Lyttle has been a first-team coach with the Reds since 2011 and he also played more than 60 games for the club during a career which also included spells at Celtic, Peterborough United, Northampton and, in the Irish League, Ballymena United, Newry Town and Lisburn Distillery.
Joint manager of Amateur League Premier Division side Malachians from 2009-2011, he now has the opportunity to impress as a coach in the full-time game and Reds defender Jaimie McGovern admitted the news came as a “big surprise”.
“Looking at it from his point of view, it’s an opportunity to manage in the full-time game and it could be a good move for him,” said McGovern.
“The job could be made for him and he might be able to get his ideas across better in that full-time environment.
“Gerard kept his cards close to his chest but if players want to aspire to reach a certain level then you have to accept managers have ambition too.
“If he’s a success at Sligo then more doors could open for him.
“He’s been at Cliftonville for a long time and I wish him all the best.
“He maybe didn’t get the credit or the plaudits he deserved for the work he did with Bressy (Tommy Breslin) and at times this season it seemed like he was more a social worker to some of the guys than a manager.
“I felt for him because he simply wanted to coach but you learn through experience and he can become a better and stronger manager.
“It’s strange having Mal Donaghy and the old comrade George McMullan taking charge but we need to lift confidence.
“Results have not been good and we need a big change to spark us into life.
“European qualification is vital and we need to find some momentum to make that happen.
“Something has got to change and we recognise that.
“The team will fight on and the club will make the right decision on the new manager.
“Our immediate target is to get three points against Glenavon.”