O'Neill: Lambert a Part of the Club's Plans Going Forward
Tuesday, 9th Jun 2020 18:25
Town general manager of football operations Lee O’Neill has confirmed that manager Paul Lambert is still “a part of the club’s plans going forward” despite confirmation that the Blues ended 2019/20 in 11th place in League One on unweighted points per game, their lowest finish for 67 years.
The Blues were among the clubs to vote for the season to be played to its conclusion behind closed doors but the vast majority of their fellow third tier sides opted to end the campaign early, largely due to financial concerns regarding the cost of staging the fixtures and coronavirus testing.
“I think we’re bitterly disappointed with the outcome from the results today,” O’Neill told BBC Radio Suffolk (3hrs 31mins 14secs).
“It was slightly expected from the information that we were getting that not many teams wanted to carry on the rest of this season for genuine reasons, which we understand.
“But disappointing from our point of view to finish where we have and not get an opportunity to see out the season.”
O’Neill says Town, who were 10th in the table as things stood when the season was suspended due to the coronavirus crisis on March 13th but dropped a place as they'd played a game more than Gillingham, were keen to continue as he believed they had a chance of breaking into the play-offs.
“I think for us we had a good run-in, we had five home games and a number of our players who have been out injured are actually available and fit again,” he added.
“To have our full squad able to compete, like we did at the start of the season when we were on our run, would have really helped our surge towards the end of the season.
“So from that point of view we wanted to play out the rest of the season and make that play-off spot.
“The games would have gone ahead behind closed doors as they are planned now with the play-offs. We know that would have been incredibly difficult with the testing regimes that are put in place for both clubs and players to make it as safe as possible to allow us to finish the season.”
Reflecting on Town’s 11th place, which was well below fans’ early season expectations and a huge disappointment given the Blues had been top as recently as January, O’Neill admitted it is far from good enough.
“No, that isn’t what we set out to do at the start of the season, so from that point of view it is bitterly disappointing, from the club’s point of view, the players’ and, more importantly, the supporters’,” he said.
“Our target was to try and make the play-offs this year and we’ve fallen short of that. We’re disappointed with that but we’re using that frustration and that anger, if you want, to focus on our plans for the up and coming season the following year.”
He says the financial impact of the current situation is as yet unclear: “We’re still working through that. Although the information has come out on not finishing this season, it’s not really clear yet when next season’s going to start and what that’s exactly going to look like.
“I think the financial implications, until we can gauge whether supporters are [allowed] back in the stadium to watch football, it will become incredibly difficult for a number of clubs to look at operating costs.
“There is a concern there in general, and that’s across most businesses I think now. We need a little bit more information from the EFL as to how and what next season’s going to look like so we can start making sure we put the plans in place.”
And Town’s own situation won’t be helped by a second season in the third tier: “Obviously the revenue from media rights and stuff like that is less in the league, so that all helps contribute towards the budget that we have available for players and staff, so being in League One for another season is definitely not where we want to be as a football club.
“From our point of view, we need to be out of League One and back in the Championship as quickly as possible. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Asked whether there might be cutbacks or the likes of Flynn Downes and Luke Woolfenden sold, he said: “From our point of view we need to try and maintain and keep our better players for as long as possible.
“The idea being that we’re trying to build and grow the team. It’s a lot younger, good players are coming through and we want to keep hold of them.
“Economically, we’ll look at everything as the next season becomes a little bit clearer and we know exactly what that’s going to look like. At the moment it’s very difficult to plan operationally because we don’t actually know when it’s going to start.”
Nigel Clough recently left his role as Burton boss as the Brewers sought to cut costs and O'Neill was asked whether Town manager Lambert, who signed a five-year deal in January, might follow him in departing with a number of fans having called for a change at the top in the wake of this afternoon's confirmation of the season's early end.
“No, Paul and his staff are a part of the club’s plans going forward,” O’Neill insisted. “We’ve got a lot of work to do in developing the squad and making them better and we’ve got to reflect on what went wrong, particularly in the last few months of the season.
“For most of the season we were in and around the top six and to fall short in the last few months we’ll have to look at things from that point of view.
“We’re behind the first team manager and all the staff and we’ve got to do better than what we have done as quickly as possible.”
Regarding compensation for season ticket holders for the five home games which weren’t played at the end of the season, he added: “As the club made in a statement made via Marcus a few weeks ago, now we have that information that the season has come to an end, it’s something that we are going to look at and address with the season ticket holders.
“There are lots of things that we need to do now and it was waiting for that information as to whether we were going to be able to get the games played and show them what that was going to look like or not.
“And now we have that information it’s [a case of] further talks and conversations with those season ticket holders as to what we could do going forward.”
He says returning to the Championship remains the main focus, although when the players might return to training is as yet unclear.
“That is our ultimate game, to get back to the Championship as quickly as possible,” he said.
“The players are now technically on the off-season but they’ve been off for so long it’s difficult to work out the timings of when they’re going to return and when we need to get them conditioned to be able to play football when they do return, and obviously with all the procedures in place to make sure it’s safe to do so.”
O’Neill says that although the vote didn’t go the way the Blues wanted, at least he and owner Marcus Evans now know what the immediate future holds.
“I think from that point of view, the decision on whether this season is going to resume has been going on for such a long period of time that, yes, it’s disappointing that we aren’t going to be part of that play-off and promotion campaign for this season, but to get closure and drawing a line under this season at least we know where we’re at,” he said.
“I think I’m still a little bit anxious and trying to plan ahead because we don’t know what’s going to happen next season.”
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