Belfast Telegraph

Baird happy to be centre stage for Estonia clash

By Graham Luney

Chris Baird says he’s ready to fill the void left by Jonny Evans’ withdrawal from the Northern Ireland camp.

The Manchester United defender’s ankle injury is the latest blow to manager Nigel Worthington ahead of tomorrow night’s Euro 2012 qualifying Group C battle with Estonia at Windsor Park.

Evans will also miss the Italy clash on Tuesday night as he returns to his club for treatment.

Aaron Hughes’ groin injury, ruling him out of what would have been the final double-header of his illustrious Northern Ireland career, now means that Baird and Gareth McAuley will perform centre-back duties with Craig Cathcart at left-back and possibly Lee Hodson at right-back.

Josh McQuoid (virus) and Jamie Ward (hamstring) also pulled out of the panel as Andrew Little, Oliver Norwood and Preston full-back Conor McLaughlin were called up as cover.

But Worthington has been forced to shuffle his backline and he has even tried to bring Newcastle United defender Shane Ferguson into the squad — a player who has also considered declaring allegiance to the Republic of Ireland.

However, the boss knows he can depend on Fulham ace Baird who will win his 55th cap.

And the Rasharkin man is determined to repay the faith shown in him by Worthington.

“I'm happy because I'm playing at my club and for my country,” he said. “I enjoy the holding midfield role but I'm playing at centre-half at the minute and love it.

“It is my favourite position and I've played there for Fulham since Aaron got injured and it it is definitely my favourite position.

“If Nigel decides to play me there then I would be delighted but I will be happy playing anywhere to be honest.”

Baird also expressed support for under-fire Worthington, saying he deserves another chance to lead Northern Ireland to the promised land of a major finals.

“A lot of guys have said they back Nigel and I'm one of them,” added the 29-year-old.

“He has been fantastic for us. He has been great for our country and great for the players who have worked under him.

“He's always stuck by us and, personally, he backed me and picked me for big games. He has everyone's respect, he's a good coach and I back him.

“We are a small nation, we have only a certain amount of players to choose from and we have had a few injuries in recent times but I think Nigel has been great for the country.

“Whatever Nigel decides to do, stay on or go, I will respect but I would certainly like him to stay after this campaign.”

After making it to a FA Cup final with Southampton and Europa League final with Fulham, Baird is determined to make it to a major finals with his country.

“Getting to a major tournament will always be very hard for us. That's not going to change,” he added.

“We have been close but of course I'd love to get there. It would be the icing on the cake for me having played in an FA Cup final and a European final.

“Hopefully we'll get a few results in the next two games because it has been very frustrating.

“We start well then we slip up at crucial times after getting ourselves into a great position. Maybe it is a mental thing for some players. It's so frustrating.

“I really don't know but it always seems to backfire on us.”

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