IRISH FA chiefs last night insisted Nigel Worthington remains their No.1 target to lead Northern Ireland into next year's World Cup qualifiers - even though fans' favourite Lawrie Sanchez is now available after being sacked by Fulham.
Sanchez's contract with the west London club was terminated on Friday morning - only eight months after quitting Northern Ireland for Mohamed Al Fayed's club.
A shocking run of results - 13 points from 17 games - left The Cottagers in the relegation zone of the Premier League.
Fulham's board felt they needed to act and wielded the axe before their position in the Premier League became precarious.
Sanchez, who guided Northern Ireland to the top of Group F during our European qualifiers, is now naturally being linked with a return to international management as Worthington, his successor for those final six Euro games, stalls over signing a new two year deal.
But while a strong body of supporter opinion would be pleased to see the 48-year-old return, there are those that were infuriated with his decision to jump ship for the bright lights of London - and the fear he could be tempted by a 'bigger' job again.
And, of course, there is no guarantee Sanchez would want to return to international management - worried that the success he achieved between 2004-2007 could be overshadowed by any future disappointment.
The Irish FA would also require reassurance that they would have a committment for the entire World Cup qualifiers.
Talks with Worthington are ongoing and while nothing has been signed, IFA Chief Executive Howard Wells, whose own contract expires at the end of this month, remains optimistic.
He says: "The mandate we have at this moment is to conclude a deal with Nigel Worthington and it is as simple as that.
"That is the brief we have been given by the Executive Committee and there will be no discussions with anyone else until our negotiations with Nigel have been concluded one way or another.
"Obviously there will be speculation about Lawrie because of his popularity here with the fans but we haven't planned to speak to him or anyone else.
"I was disappointed at how Lawrie got the sack because it's not a good situation for anyone and it certainly doesn't make the game look good.
"But I spoke to Nigel Worthington again yesterday and hopefully we can get things sorted soon after Christmas."
IFA President Raymond Kennedy admitted he hadn't even considered Sanchez returning.
He said last night: "Lawrie Sanchez isn't even on the radar at the moment.
"We are currently in the process of trying to appoint a manager but talk of Lawrie or any other manager would be for another day and I wouldn't have any further comment about it.
"Nothing will be concluded with Nigel until after Christmas and we'll see what happens."