Hessenthaler to stay as Gillingham player after resignation

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The Independent Online

Andy Hessenthaler resigned as player-manager of Gillingham yesterday but will be welcomed back into the squad, according to the club's striker Darren Byfield.

Andy Hessenthaler resigned as player-manager of Gillingham yesterday but will be welcomed back into the squad, according to the club's striker Darren Byfield.

The 39-year-old, whose resignation from the struggling Championship outfit came after four years in charge, established the Gills as a solid mid-table team in his first three seasons despite having to operate within a tight budget and often having to sell his best players.

But the Kent club have made a miserable start to the 2004-05 campaign and are lying second from bottom in the table, four points adrift of safety. Hessenthaler, who remains on the club's playing staff despite his resignation, led the club to their highest-ever league placing of 11th in 2002-03, while he was also at the helm for some memorable FA Cup performances, including last season's defeat of the Premiership side Charlton.

However, Gillingham avoided relegation only on goal difference last term, with a nail-biting goalless draw at Stoke.

But Byfield, who believes Hessenthaler was not to blame for this season's poor start, said: "I was obviously very disappointed with the news because Andy did sign me, but we've got to look at it from the viewpoint that the players are responsible.

"Everybody's been 100 per cent behind Andy and you definitely won't hear a bad word said about him. We were surprised that he stepped down but I think that he wants someone to come in with some fresh ideas."

The veteran Hessenthaler will continue in his playing role, and Byfield has no worries over his ability to become a member of the squad again. "He brings 100 per cent enthusiasm and he'll be back and add a huge amount to our midfield. He's like one of the lads really so he'll slot straight back in."

The striker, who has scored five goals this season, has called on the club to rally round and propel themselves away from the Championship basement, a position he believes they will not occupy at the end of the season.

"We need everyone to get behind us and we know we've let the fans down but we need them to help us now," he added. "It's critical that we look at our next game and be focused because it's all right saying we've got 25 games to go. We've got to be positive because I firmly believe that we can beat anyone in this league and I definitely think we'll stay up."

Paul Scally, the club's chairman, also paid tribute to Hessenthaler. "Andy has been an outstanding talent both on and off the field over the past eight or nine years and his contribution to the club is unparalleled," Scally said.

"It is indeed the actions of a big man to step down from a position of responsibility when the interests of others may be improved. Andy Hessenthaler is, and will remain, as far as I and Gillingham football club fans are concerned, a big and brave man."

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