REDDITCH United have been left stunned by the departure of boss Paul Smith to Halesowen Town.
The managerial role at the relegated Yeltz has been vacant and Smith – who takes over from caretaker management duo Lee Hughes and Asa Charlton – has decided to take up the challenge of trying to lead Town back into Southern Premier Central at the first attempt.
His departure comes as a bombshell to the Reds, who Smith had spoken of continuing his work with next season after leading United to a 15th-placed finish thanks to Saturday’s 3-1 home win over Leiston on the final day of the season.
Smith and his flurry of signings had steered the Reds to safety having taken over in September with the club deep in relegation trouble but, clearly, there has been a change of heart and the highly-rated manager will take up a new challenge having been tempted to the Black Country on what is believed to be a bigger budget to work with.
Smith said on Halesowen’s social media: “I feel honoured and privileged to be appointed manager of Halesowen Town.
“Keith (McKenna, director of football) and Karen’s (Brookes, chairman) drive and passion for the club really excited me. That, added to the fantastic fan base the club has, makes this feel like the perfect fit for me.
“My immediate goal is to get a squad together that can compete for a return to step three and that the Yeltz fans can relate to and be proud of.”
After Saturday’s league finale, Smith had spoken optimistically about the Reds’ chances of improvement in the 2019/20 campaign.
He said: “The planning for next season has already been going on and we will assess where we are over the next week or so and then look to add to the group.
“It’s a good group as it is. It doesn’t need a major overhaul. It just needs some tinkering. I believe the nucleus in here to push on. If you look at the points per game since I’ve been here it would put is somewhere near touching the play-offs.
“The squad is good enough to do that – we just need a bit more quality in certain areas.”
However, Smith did speak of his desire to take a break after what he has described as a demanding but enjoyable eight months.
“First and foremost I will have a bit of a breather. It’s 24/7 being a manager in non-League football. The hours you have to put in are unbelievable. It’s important to have a break,” he added.
With the Storm Hannah wind at their backs in the first half, the Reds opened a 2-0 lead by the interval. Michael Nelson, cutting inside from Luke Yates’ excellent pass, drilled home the first on six minutes and, although Josh Hawker’s penalty was saved by a flying Marcus Garnham eight minutes later, the Reds continued to press.
Their reward was a second goal on 27 minutes, beautifully crafted by Yates and overlapping full-back Jamie Ashmore before Leam Howards finished smartly from eight yards.
Leiston cut the deficit on 71 minutes thanks to a horrendous mix-up when Reds skipper Andy Parsons headed past his own keeper Reece Francis.
Francis redeemed himself with a point-blank save from Matthew Blake before Redditch subs Shaquille Leachman-Whittingham and Jack Downing were quick to test the Leiston defence as they pushed forward and Downing got the clincher seven minutes from time.
Having taken Robbie Bunn’s pass in his stride, the former Birmingham City youngster’s charge into the box was only ended by Harry Knight’s foul and Downing coolly sent Garnham the wrong way from the resulting penalty.
Smith started his managerial career with Alvechurch where he made more than 250 appearances as a player. Following this he moved to manage Studley before, in 2014, he joined Bromsgrove Sporting in what would prove to be his most successful spell as manager.
He led the Rouslers to second place in Midland League Division One and the following season brought more success as another second place was gained alongside two cup final appearances.
The next season Smith led the Rouslers to the title and they were a game from Wembley as Sporting lost in the semi-final of the FA Vase against Cleethorpes Town.
Smith left Bromsgrove in March 2018 and joined Highgate United before switching to the Trico Stadium in September.