Belfast Telegraph

Case for the defence is very strong: Baird

By Marshall Gillespie

Northern Ireland's stand-in skipper Chris Baird believes the performance of the defence in the victory over Liechtenstein on Wednesday night could pose new boss Nigel Worthington some selection headaches for next month's crucial games in Latvia and Iceland.

Michael Duff and George McCartney, who were both drafted into the back-four as cover for the injured Aaron Hughes and Jonny Evans, produced solid performances which are sure to bring them into contention for the next round of qualifiers.

"Apart from the goal we conceded, which was quite sloppy, I felt the defence looked quite assured and comfortable," stated Baird. "So it is going to be hard when Aaron and Jonny hopefully return next month as there is going to be real competition for places. Thankfully though it is up to the manager to decide which he feels is the best back-four at his disposal."

There seemed to be a seamless transition between the Lawrie Sanchez and Nigel Worthington eras on Wednesday evening, and Baird agreed that little had changed.

" The boss didn't want to alter the system much or the way we played," declared the Fulham defender. "It was always going to be a difficult match for us but we stuck to the game plan and it worked well for us in the end because we picked up yet another win which was the most important thing."

"We aimed to start at a high tempo and hopefully get an early goal to settle us," added Baird. "And of course the main man once again provided it for us.

"David really is phenomenal, Every time he touches the ball it's a goal and I'm chuffed to bits for him he's even doing it for us at Fulham at the minute."

Apart from picking up yet another three points it was also a special occasion for the 25 year-old Rasharkin man as he was captaining his country for the first time.

"It was a real honour for me to lead the boys out, I wasn't nervous at all just proud to be given the chance; it really was a special night for me and for my family."

As well as taking over as skipper from the missing Hughes, Baird also took on the vacant centre-back position against Liechtenstein, a role he became well accustomed to playing for his previous club Southampton last term.

"I found playing in the centre quite comfortable actually; I did it for Southampton for the whole of last season so it wasn't a problem sliding in there again."

" This season Lawrie has been playing me at right-back for Fulham, but I like either position really and I don't particular care where I play for club or country as long as I am in the team."

Looking ahead to next month's trips to Latvia and Iceland Baird feels that the belief currently running through the squad will help Northern Ireland to produce the goods against the Groups' bottom two countries.

"Neither country is doing very well at the minute so that has to be good for us. We are in second position so it really is in our hands, but we will go into both games with confidence and I feel we can pick up the six points especially after the performance and result against Liechtenstein."


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