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How my Northern Irish roots can help Motherwell to Scottish Cup glory against Celtic, explains Robinson

 

By Steven Beacom

Motherwell manager Stephen Robinson is setting his sights on causing one of the biggest upsets in Scottish Cup final history against Celtic at Hampden Park.

Celtic will be massive favourites on Saturday to complete the double treble under Brendan Rodgers, but Lisburn man Robinson has faith that, not for the first time, his players can cause problems for the Bhoys.

Four times the sides have met this season. Celtic hammered the Steelmen 5-1 at Parkhead and won a competitive League Cup final 2-0. In between those two matches the Scottish champions were fortunate to earn a dubious late penalty to draw 1-1 away from home, and there was another draw in March at Fir Park when Robinson's side were down to 10 men for 50 minutes.

The former Northern Ireland midfielder appreciates the achievements of the Hoops with fellow countryman Rodgers at the helm but, come the weekend, that's where the respect will end.

"Celtic are a very good side. They have players who can win games in seconds, but we have caused them problems this season and we are confident we can do that again," said Robinson, a key component of Michael O'Neill's international coaching set-up in the Euro 2016 finals.

"A lot of teams change what they do when they play Celtic. We play to our strengths. We accept Celtic will have a lot of the ball.

"My background comes from working with Northern Ireland where we didn't have a lot of possession so you have to be organised and work well without the ball.

"We have also taken the game to them, played in behind them and been physical against them and it is something teams in Scotland don't often do.

"Scott Brown is a key figure for Celtic and has been for numerous years. He is a top, top player but we have boys in that midfield area who are very competitive and they don't fear anyone.

"We have run them very close in three games this season and in the other we lost heavily at Celtic Park when we weren't on it, so we have to make sure we are 100% up for it at Hampden. I believe my players will be.

"We will be well prepared and have to make sure we enjoy the occasion. The only way you can do that is to go and win the match."

Family and friends of the ex-Bournemouth and Luton Town ace will travel from Northern Ireland to Hampden for the final, but sons Harry and Charlie may not be able to attend because the former, a fine young player at Oldham where his dad was once the manager, has been called into an Under-21 training camp and the latter is doing exams.

The 42-year-old, who won seven caps, has passed many tests at Motherwell since taking charge in March last year, first avoiding relegation and this season inspiring the club to both domestic Cup finals for the first time since 1951.

On the flip side, his team have sometimes been criticised by opposition managers and players for supposed bully boy tactics.

Asked if those jibes annoy him, Robinson replied: "Not really. We are called over physical but, as it stands at the moment, we have players with a broken cheekbone, a broken collarbone, an ankle injury from a tackle, a broken toe, a broken wrist and the list goes on.

"What we don't do is use social media and put pictures of ourselves all over it. We just get on with it.

"We are a tough side and I'm glad we are like that. I want a reputation where people think we are hard to play against.

"The only thing that annoys me is that what is overlooked is that we play with a lot of quality in the final third."

Robinson is delivering despite operating with one of the lowest budgets in the Scottish top flight. In Saturday's final, Motherwell will be very much the poor relations in comparison to Celtic.

"We don't have major backers and we get 4,000 home fans each week, and that is not likely to change in the near future. We have a seal on wages and the Cup final won't change that either," he says.

"I can't imagine we will pay too big a transfer fee for anyone. The most we paid was £10,000 for our goalkeeper Trevor Carson who has done brilliantly.

"It can be difficult to attract players. Our market is probably non-league in England and League Two, but even that is sometimes out of our reach.

"We spend a lot of time in the car, driving around and scouting at games, trying to pick up a few gems. We aren't anywhere close to the financial bracket of Celtic.

"For all the differences between the clubs, though, we firmly believe we can cause an upset. It is a super time to be involved with Motherwell and this is a chance for our players to go down in history.

"Making the League Cup final was great. Qualifying for the Scottish Cup final fantastic. To get to both in the same season is incredible. The last time Motherwell did something like this was in 1951.

"Now we want to finish on a dream high."

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