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FOOTBALL: SKY BLUES: We have hit the bottom and are ready to go now; MCALLISTER ON A TOPSY-TURVY SEASON AND WHERE HE GOES FROM HERE.

Byline: ANDY TURNER

McAllister on... THE SEASON

AFTER one of the worst runs in Coventry City's history, Gary McAllister has revealed the true extent to which he has been up against in his first managerial post.

And while not looking for excuses, the Sky Blues boss is keen put forward the reasons for such a dismal season and assure the fans that things can only get better.

"I totally understand the frustration of the fans and losing games still hurts me as much as it did at 16 at Motherwell, so I can understand how they are feeling regarding the league position and the way things have gone from the turn of the year," said McAllister.

"So rather than me rhyming off six or seven excuses, I am going to try to give some reasons as to why I think things have gone wrong.

"The facts are I inherited a team that finished 11th in the league and didn't challenge at all. They challenged briefly that season and dived towards the end, similar to what has happened this year.

"Of that squad that I inherited, I had to lose the three highest profile players, including David Thompson and Lee Hughes who scored 27 goals.

Our goal scoring problem has been highlighted this season with eight from Jay Bothroyd in the league and then it is me with seven, so losing those 27 goals was critical.

"When I took over the wage bill was pounds 16.1 million and I have taken almost pounds 11 million off that, so nearly 75 per cent of the wage bill has been reduced, and if you dilute it by that much and lose your three top players and 27 goals, things are not going to get better.

"When I took the job I wasn't going to come in and say we were going to finish 18th, come on get behind me. Of course I was full of optimism and there was a time round about December when we thought, 'We can push on here,' but we lost two key players and that was very apparent how it affected us because you could see the team wilted a bit after losing two experienced players.

"Craig Hignett, who is a seasoned campaigner in this league and helped create goals for Barnsley and Blackburn and got them both out of this league, was one and losing him to a broken ankle and Youssef Safri to a double hernia was critical, and the big turning point.

"That's just a few things that I want to get across.

"It has been very difficult and as much as we have had to cut and dilute, people have got to realise that this has been out of necessity or otherwise the club would have folded.

"But as we are bottoming out there is only one way for the club to go. We are not going to do a Sheffield Wednesday here, so we have hit the bottom and we are ready to go now.

"We have got to get people here who will not accept defeat - we don't want bad losers. You can be dignified but it has really got to hurt over your weekend and after games, and do something about it in the next training session, and that is something we have not seen enough."

He added: "I think people have got to hold their hands up to the chairman and board of directors as well because they have inherited pounds 60 million of debt and they've now got that down to pounds 21 million."

McAllister on... THE FUTURE

Still reasons to be cheerful

SKY BLUES boss Gary McAllister has asked the fans to be patient as he tries to rebuild the club, and says there is plenty to get excited about for the future.

"I never took over a club that was flying and as much as I came in, and I know it wasn't a blaze of glory, we all want to get back to the Premier League," he said.

"I was very honoured to be offered this position and I still am. Some people said, 'What are you doing taken that on?' but I still feel the same today as I did when I took the job because I know from having played here previously when it was a proud club with a fantastic record of playing in the top flight.

"I know what it means for the fans to get back there after 34 uninterrupted years. OK there were grinds involved there but the fact that a club of this stature and size could compete at the top for that amount of time is fantastic.

"When I speak about the club being a disaster from top to bottom I mean the football side of the club because in other areas of the club things are going well.

"The new stadium has got the green light and that will certainly happen. The academy will be up and running in a few seasons so there are good messages to be sending to any young player in the midlands or any part of the country.

"We are going down to route of fast tracking the youth like Nottingham Forest have and young guys are going to get a chance here and if they are good enough they are going to get in. They won't have to wait until they are 22 or 23. As much as there is doom and gloom, there are reasons to be cheerful."

As McAllister starts the process of clearing out unwanted players and bringing in fresh faces, he hopes this season's success stories will enable him to tap into the top clubs in the country for new and exciting loan stars.

"The success stories of Richie Partridge and Gary Caldwell will help because I can now go to the top five or six Premiership clubs and if they have got a young players who is better than their reserve team and just on the verges of getting in their first team, they might feel that he needs to go out and play football," he said.

"And I think we can give these young players a good environment and good stage to come and show their skills. But there has got to be patience from the fans as well. As much as they pay their money and can come here and criticise, and as footballers we have got to accept that, but there has got to be an understanding of what's happening and a patience.

"If we can just bring in a couple of experienced guys as well and buy some time for the younger guys, the club are going to be a Premier League academy, that's for sure and the investment is not going to stop there.

"It is going to be similar to Forest where they came out and told their fans and they showed patience and now they are reaping the rewards and getting over 20,000 fans again.

"We are not going to lie down and die and our priority next season is to try to get to the play-offs again and get promotion. There has still got to be expectations because that is healthy and you have got to set yourself goals."

McAllister on... QUITTING

Walking out is not an option

GARY McALLISTER admits that despite a baptism of fire into the world of football management, he has never once considered walking out on the Sky Blues.

"Never at any stage have I thought about jacking the job in," he said.

"I still feel very privileged, just like when Gerard Houllier phoned me and asked me to go to Liverpool. It was the same when the Coventry guys phoned me and asked me if I fancied the job and that hasn't changed.

"I know what this club is about and where it can go because I played here for four years. It is a proud club.

"I am not hiding behind anything. I accept things could be better but there are reasons for it.

WWe made decisions along the way, and just five weeks ago we decided to go with players who were going to be here next year, so maybe that has affected results as well."

But as he plans for next season, McAllister is convinced his first 12 months in the First Division will make him a better manager.

"I am a year wiser in this division," said the City boss who intends to learn from his mistakes.

"I didn't know this division at all so now I know it and nothing should surprise me again."

CAPTION(S):

HIGHS AND LOWS: Gary McAllister celebrates being voted manager of the month (above) but there have been more frowns than smiles this year; FAMILIAR POSE: McAllister is as hurt as anyone else
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Apr 24, 2003
Words:1473
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