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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 January, 2004, 11:47 GMT
Sanchez is shock choice
By Jim Stokes

Lawrie Sanchez
Lawrie Sanchez is the shock choice as the new Northern Ireland manager.

Sanchez got the nod over hot favourite Jimmy Nicholl and will take on a two-year full-time contract.

Both Sanchez and Nicholl were interviewed last Monday for the vacant post with the Dunfermline assistant the clear favourite.

However, it is believed that difficulties over compensating Nicholl's departure cleared the way for the former Wimbledon player.

While Dunfermline had insisted that they would not stand in the way of Nicholl, compensation issues and Nicholl's salary, desire for more than a two-year deal and to choose his own assistant proved a stumbling block.

However, there were no snags for Sanchez who will bring in Gerry Armstrong as his assistant.

Armstrong, who failed to make the short-list this time, was also an assistant during Bryan Hamilton's tenure in the 1990s.

''I am delighted, proud and honoured to be chosen to manage Northern Ireland,'' said Sanchez.

Armstrong said: "It's an opportunity that I couldn't turn down. I've already done the job before when I was assistant to Bryan. The fact I've been there will help.''

Former Northern Ireland striker Gerry Armstrong
Gerry Armstrong will be assistant to Lawrie Sanchez

Sanchez was recently pipped to the Millwall job by Dennis Wise, after he was sacked following a four-year stint at Wycombe last September following a poor start to the season.

In his first season at the club he saved them from relegation and took them to the 2001 FA Cup semi-finals.

The 44-year-old Sanchez won three caps for Northern Ireland in the 1980s and cut his managerial teeth with League of Ireland side Sligo Rovers in the 1990s.

Lambeth-born Sanchez was better known for scoring the winning goal in Wimbledon's 1-0 victory over Liverpool in the1988 FA Cup final.

The situation is familar to Nicholl - 10 years ago he was hot favourite to take over from Billy Bingham who had been in the job for 14 years, only for Hamilton to be unveiled.

Sanchez brings a fresh approach to a Northern Ireland side that has not registered a goal for 1,242 minutes.

When they face Norway in a Belfast friendly in February it will be two years since Steve Lomas scored their last one which was against Poland.

There are massive challenges ahead for Sanchez with the draw for the 2006 World Cup qualifiers pitching Northern Ireland against fellow home nations England and Wales.

One of his first jobs will be to talk to Celtic star Neil Lennon to see if he is willing to come back into the international arena after being forced out due to a death threat.

Sanchez comes in at a time when Northern Ireland football is at an all-time low. They are 124th in the Fifa rankings, just above the Faroe Islands.

A disappointed Nicholl said: ''Somehow, I expected it. I was willing to make financial sacrifices myself.

''But I like working where I am. Whatever the reasons for the IFA decision, good luck to Lawrie and the players.''

BBC's Stephen Watson
"The IFA will face some tough questions"

Hamilton baffled by appointment
21 Jan 04  |  Northern Ireland
Sanchez full of surprises
21 Jan 04  |  Northern Ireland
Armstrong glad to be back
21 Jan 04  |  Northern Ireland

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