Baird jumps to the defence of under-fire Northern Ireland boss Worthington

05 October 2011 03:46
Northern Ireland's Chris Baird has launched a passionate defence of under-pressure manager Nigel Worthington.

Worthington's current contract expires at the end of the year and a decision on his future is not likely before the last two Euro 2012 qualifiers - at home to Estonia on Friday and against Italy in Pescara four days later - are out of the way.

The former Norwich boss has come in for criticism from some fans, which reached fever pitch when a series of abject defensive errors saw his side lose 4-1 in Tallinn last month to realistically end their play-off hopes.

In defence: Chris Baird has backed Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington

Predecessor Lawrie Sanchez made some scathing comments about Worthington's tenure in the aftermath of that match, but since then a handful of players have gone on record with their support for the manager.

Baird today became the latest to stand behind Worthington, who has been in the job for four and a half years.

'A lot of guys have said they back Nigel and I'm one of them,' Baird told said. '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.'

If the chants of the travelling fans after defeat in Estonia are anything to go by, Worthington can expect to face at least some negativity at Windsor Park on Friday, but Baird has called for a measure of perspective.

'The fans know that it was three mistakes for three of the goals against Estonia and that's what really killed us,' the Fulham man said.

'They aren't silly, they know it was one of those nights and I even thought we played well at times. Let's hope the fans come on Friday and get behind us.'

Worthington himself has learned to cope with the pressures of international management since taking the reigns following Sanchez's departure midway through Euro 2008 qualifying.

It would take a highly improbable series of events in the final two rounds for Northern Ireland to leapfrog from fifth in the group to second, but he intends to retain his focus.

'(Criticism) is part and parcel of management,' he told Sky Sports News. 'We'll give it our best shot and more often than not that has stood us in good stead.

Difficult time: Worthington has come under fire from former boss Lawrie Sanchez

'It's all to play for. Yes it's uphill, but my belief is that we are positive. We have a lot to do but we'll look to go and do it.'

Worthington has already lost three of his original 23-man squad for the Group C double header to injury, with Josh McQuoid (virus) and Jamie Ward (hamstring) joining Aaron Hughes, who has been denied a farewell appearance before retirement by a groin problem, in missing out.

Manchester United's Jonny Evans is also expected to miss the games.The Red Devils are concerned about an ankle injury carried by the defender and kept him back for assessment.

He is not now expected to join his team-mates in Belfast, instead remaining in the north west to regain full fitness.

Evans, who played the full 90 minutes of United's win over Norwich at the weekend, missed the trip to Tallinn through suspension.

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Source: Daily_Mail