Optimistic Chris Baird has called on his Northern Ireland team-mates to draw on their experience of defeating sensational Spain at Windsor Park two years ago to keep alive their World Cup qualifying dreams.
Northern Ireland were crushed 2-1 by Slovakia on Saturday evening in Bratislava and now face Group Three favourites Czech Republic in their second match on Wednesday night.
It will take a monumental effort for Nigel Worthington’s men to overcome a Czech side that is considered one of the greatest teams in Europe but Baird, who played in the holding midfield role against the Slovaks, believes Northern Ireland are more than capable of causing yet another shock victory in Belfast.
Versatile Fulham star Baird points to the fact that at the start of the Euro 2008 qualifiers, Northern Ireland were hammered 3-0 by Iceland before bouncing back dramatically against Spain four days later.
Rasharkin-born Baird though does concede that if Northern Ireland were to lose against Petr Cech and co, then their qualifying hopes for South Africa 2010 could be over after only two matches.
“It could be, yes,” admits Baird, who is set to be the odd man out when boss Worthington reverts to a 4-4-2 formation after employing a 4-5-1 style of play against Slovakia.
“But we're not giving up on it that easily. Two years ago it was the same. We lost to Iceland then beat Spain so we’ll be hoping to do the same again, get the right result and get the three points to get us up and running.
“The Czechs will not find it easy coming to Windsor Park. I’m sure they’ve watched many games there before so we know it's going to be a hard game but we'll be up for it to try and get the three points.
“The boys in the squad know exactly what we need to do. I think the Slovakian game was poor from us and we could have done a lot, lot more, however knowing how good we are at home I think we have a good chance although we have to up our game.”
Baird goes into the Czech game still reeling from the Russian referee’s decision not to award Northern Ireland a penalty during the game on Saturday against Slovakia.
The 26–year-old is adamant his shot on 69 minutes hit the hand of a Slovakian defender and concedes ref Nikolay Ivanov actually AGREED with him but still refused to award a penalty kick.
“It was definitely a penalty,” raged Baird.
“I don’t know how he’s (referee) not seen it. I said to him ‘that was definitely a penalty’, he goes ‘I know, it hit his hand’. So I asked him why he didn’t give it but there was no talking to him, he was having none of it but it was a blatant penalty.
“You couldn’t talk to him, he was poor all night.
“The defender actually had his hands above his head. I’ve hit the shot and it’s a split second but the referee was in a great position to see it. He knows it’s hit his hand and I don’t know why he hasn't given it.
“To be fair we argued a bit with the referee, we lost our concentration, gave a stupid free kick away and they scored their second goal. To concede from two set pieces, that was terrible from us.”
Northern Ireland trained this morning and early indications are that Keith Gillespie, who picked up a knock on Saturday and was forced off, should be fit to take on the Czechs.
Rangers hitman Kyle Lafferty is unlikely to be meeting up with the squad and will stay in Glasgow to continue his treatment on a troublesome back injury that requires plenty of rest.