WESSEX Premier outfit Christchurch have reluctantly accepted Michael Cuffie’s resignation as first-team coach, confirmed chairman Mark Duffy.

Cuffie, who is recovering from major back surgery, has stepped down with immediate effect following a difficult 12 months in the Hurn Bridge hot-seat.

His tenure started badly when it emerged Cuffie had been under a Hampshire FA ban for non-payment of a fine incurred during a spell with former club Lymington Town.

Cuffie was also faced with a major rebuilding job after several players had followed predecessor Graham Kemp to Winchester City and a number of others had left.

Although Cuffie bullishly targeted the title during one of his first interviews, matching Kemp’s achievements at the club always looked likely to be a tall order.

And so it proved as Priory ended the campaign languishing in 16th – 13 places lower than the previous season and outside of the top seven for the first time in six years.

To compound the club’s woes, Christchurch lost their final two games 12-0 and 8-0, finishing both with just 10 men due to a dearth of available bodies. Cuffie had also been unable to make the trips to Newport and Sholing as he was having an operation to cure a long-standing back problem.

Chairman Duffy, who confirmed Cuffie’s assistant Bob Sullivan had also left, told the Daily Echo: “Michael did a very good job under very difficult circumstances. The players were together all season and the spirit was excellent.

“It was a struggle and he worked extremely hard behind the scenes and I have had a great relationship with him. It is a shame. Things were not helped by the fact we don’t pay but that is our policy.

“Michael and Bob both did a fantastic job. We are going to miss Michael’s happy-go-lucky style. He always has a smile on his face and always did his best for the club and the team. He understood what he was taking on and did it to the best of his ability.”