MOTHERWELL assistant manager Keith Lasley insists it is no surprise to see Stephen Robinson emerge as a front-runner for the Northern Ireland job.
Lasley, who has been Robinson’s right-hand man since the summer of 2017, readily admits that he would rather the Fir Park gaffer continued to fly under the radar as he works wonders with the Steelmen.
However, the secret appears to be out – with Robinson installed alongside current under-21s boss Ian Baraclough as the two heavy favourites to replace Michael O’Neill according to the bookies.
St Johnstone gaffer Tommy Wright and Hearts’ Austin MacPhee have also been listed among the notable runners and riders with an SPFL connection.
Robinson has ‘Well flying high in third spot this term and, depending on how the campaign is ended, that could prove enough to secure Europa League qualification next season – a remarkable achievement given their modest budget.
He was also part of Michael O’Neill’s backroom staff which reached the last-16 of Euro 2016 and remains highly thought of within the corridors of power at Windsor Park.
And while Lasley has no desire to see Robinson move on, he fully understands why he would be a top target.
He said: “We’ll maybe try to keep Stephen’s success as quiet as possible because we want him to stay as long as possible!
“But it’s only natural that he is being discussed, given the job he has done at Motherwell and his previous associations with the Northern Ireland FA as part of Michael O’Neill’s coaching staff that went to the Euros.
“I know he is very highly regarded within the association – and rightly so.
“Working with the Stephen up close for almost three years, I can certainly see why his name would be mentioned and potentially high up on any shortlist.”
As well as their impressive Premiership performance this season, Robinson also guided Motherwell to the League Cup and Scottish Cup finals in the 2017/18 campaign, losing out to Celtic on both occasions.
While the results on the pitch speak for themselves, Lasley has lavished praise on the way Robinson has rebuilt Motherwell behind the scenes, from the top down.
He continued: “The details he goes into is fantastic, whether in a tactical sense or in terms of the culture within the building.
“Stephen manages up to the board, down to the ground staff and those who work at Fir Park. He builds relationships with everyone.
“That is absolutely vital at a club of our size and anyone who has been at Motherwell for any length of time will tell you that we are a club all pulling in the one direction. The manager leads that. That’s not always the case.
“If you look at the club from top to bottom, we are in a pretty healthy place and the manager has overseen that transition to a large extent.”