Baird continues to soar in Premier League

AS part of a Fulham side which continues to defy the critics this season, Chris Baird must still be pinching himself following a remarkable turn in fortunes for the Rasharkin man in the past year.

Frozen out of his club's first team by manager Roy Hodgson for nearly 18 months, Baird's future appeared to lie elsewhere.

However the former Southampton captain's tenacious displays in the green of Northern Ireland almost certainly salvaged his status as a Premier League player.

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Since being deployed in an unfamiliar midfield birth by Nigel Worthington, Baird has blossomed and it appears the move unwittingly saved Baird’s career at Craven Cottage.

Since starring as man-of-the-match midfielder in the goalless draw with the Czech Republic in October, 27-year-old Baird has become a regular in the Fulham side and is now willing to commit his future to the west London club.

"I came back from Prague and suddenly there was a midfield injury crisis at the club," said Baird, who began his career at Fulham at right back and played centre half for Southampton.

"Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu both got injured at the same time and there was really only me and Jonathan Greening to play in that position.

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"The manager gave me my chance and I've made sure to make the most of it.

"I'm sure playing in midfield for Northern Ireland proved to the manager that I could do a job there.

"I'm just delighted to be playing regularly again and playing in a terrific Fulham side.

It was so frustrating training all week, working really hard knowing that there would be no match for me on the Saturday.

“That was tough and hard to accept.

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“Now though I'm playing every week and loving my football again.

“We've had a couple of slip-ups recently against Chelsea and Stoke but we're still in ninth position in the league and we think we can improve on that.

“We've enjoyed decent victories over Liverpool and Manchester United.

“It wasn't a case of those sides playing poorly, we played well and fully deserved the big scorelines," says Baird.

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Baird, who signed a four year contract in 2007, still has just over 12 months to go on his deal at Craven Cottage.

He's in no hurry to sign a new deal, content to concentrate all his energies on playing well and keeping his place in the side.

But he certainly wants to stay at Fulham for as long as he can - a complete turnaround from how he felt this time last year.

"I've got another year on my contract so I'm alright.

"There have been no discussions. My job is to go out each week and prove that I deserve a new contract.

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"For the rest of the season I want to cement my place in the team, keep in good form, avoid suspension and be successful.

"I'm happy with how things are going this season and even though I would prefer to be playing at centre half, what I consider my best position, I'm grateful for the chance to be playing in midfield.”

Baird's regular appearances in midfield will not five his international manager a selection headache.

Worthington only used Baird in midfield as cover but now has to seriously consider him as a regular in the middle of the park.

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That will throw Baird into competition with Steve Davis, Damien Johnson, Sammy Clingan and Grant McCann.

"It's down to the manager what side he selects," said Baird.

"But I think it's great that he has four or five players to choose from in that position.

"That can only improve us as players and the team as a whole.

"I'm really excited about the start of the Euro qualifiers and what we can achieve.”