Versatile Chris Baird believes Wednesday night’s brave draw in bitterly cold Prague has restored confidence in the Northern Ireland set-up after last month’s shocking defeat to Slovakia ended their hopes of qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in South Africa.
Baird and his international team-mates were left disconsolate with the loss to the table-topping Slovaks at Windsor Park, however the decent result against the Czech Republic has given them back their belief and the European Championship qualifying series, which starts next September, is now their main focus.
Northern Ireland finished the campaign fourth in Group Three and Baird, who also remembers the pain and frustration at missing out in the last Euro qualifiers, insists Nigel Worthington’s men can finally achieve their goal and reach a major finals.
Baird says: “We deserved at least to make the play-offs — that’s what hurts us the most, we didn’t even finish in second place.
“Obviously we were looking for first place and automatic qualification so to not then get the consolation prize of a chance to play in the play-offs is hard to take. It’s a major disappointment. But that’s football for you, it can sometimes bite you in the backside and that’s what happened to us.
“But we move on and look forward to the next campaign.”
Baird was exceptional as the holding midfielder in the Czech capital, making a terrific contribution considering he plays most of his club football, when he actually gets on the park for Fulham, at right back.
Northern Ireland were missing eight regular squad members but those players who came in, such as Baird, Niall McGinn and Ryan McGivern, produced displays worthy of their selections on the international stage.
Baird now hopes his polished performance on Wednesday may persuade Craven Cottage supremo Roy Hodgson to give him an extended run in the Fulham team.
The Rasharkin man was basically frozen out at the west London club last season but this year he has started four games, come on from the bench three times giving him a total of 468 minutes of game time.
Baird adds: “I’ve played in few games because of Fulham’s involvement in this new Europa League. It can be frustrating and it has been frustrating for a long time now being left out of the side. But at least I’m getting a few games. I was happy with how I played against the Czechs and always want to keep on improving as a player.
“It’s hard for a lot of players coming into big games like this because some of us aren’t playing regular first team football at our clubs. And when we do ask to go out on loan to get games some of us aren’t allowed. What else can you do? Your going into training every day but there is no end product because you are not playing games. That’s when the frustration becomes evident.
“I’m not playing a lot but I’m playing maybe once every two weeks or sometimes once a week. The boys just need to keep their fitness up and look forward to the games ahead in the next campaign. The main thing is that this squad, which has a great mix of youth and experience, sticks together.
“I think we were missing eight players on Wednesday night so if he had a full side I would have fully expected us to win the game.”