A New Lease of Life: Chris Baird @ Derby County

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In case you’ve missed it, Derby County have been in the midst of an onward surge in recent weeks.

Since the return of Steve McClaren In October, the Rams have begun to discover themselves again and as a result, our season has been reignited.

A run of seven consecutive victories was brought to an end by an impressive Fulham outfit on Saturday.

The winning run was not the only thing that was a halted in the 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage.

It was the first time in five games that a Championship side had managed to breach Derby’s defence.

After five games without conceding, there was an air of inevitability around Fulham’s goal scored on the stroke of half time.

The Rams had ridden their luck in previous games and Fulham are one of the highest scorers in the league on their own turf.

Derby’s run has raised some eyebrows amongst their Championship rivals and are now being considered as promotion candidates once again.

McClaren has admitted himself that the run has been an unexpected one and the team’s rise from 20th to 7th, only one point outside of the play-off places, has been down to the spirit and togetherness of the squad.

You would’ve been hard pressed to find a Derby fan that could have predicted such improvement in such a short space of time.

Such individuals do exist amongst the Rams contingent, which I can believe.

However even the most optimistic of supporter’s could’ve foreseen the upturn in fortunes of Chris Baird.

The 34-year-old has been a revelation since his return to the side last month.

After spending the end of last season on loan at Fulham and making cameo appearances from the bench, Baird’s career was written off by many, including myself.

When Cyrus Christie’s long-term injury was revealed after the victory over Wolves, you could hear the collective intake in breath between supporters.

Christie had started to find his feet again and at the time, Derby had secured back-to-back victories for the first time this season.

Curse our rotten luck, the curse of the Derby back four had struck again, who would come in to replace Christie?

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As the game against Rotherham United approached, McClaren’s decision of who would take the vacant right back place was a hot topic of discussion.

Many supporters felt that Ikechi Anya was our best option. He had played right back for Scotland against England the previous week and would give us attacking impetus in our home fixture against the Championship basement boys.

Jamie Hanson had come on to replace Christie in the second half against Wolves, predominantly a player who prefers to play in the centre of the pitch; he can do the job in the right back slot.

There was not many backing Chris Baird’s claim for a place, despite having over 300 career appearances to his name, including 77 caps for Northern Ireland.

In fairness to the fans, Baird’s previous appearances came in bit part roles and in the defensive midfield role or filling in at left back, neither his natural position.

After hardly setting the world alight and being out of the first team picture for so long, it was easy to forget that right back is his natural role.

McClaren’s return to Pride Park signaled a new era for the club and Chris Baird represented a part of the Derby way that just didn’t quite work out.

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Brought in by Paul Clement at the start of last season, Baird was given the captain’s armband and started the first six games, in which we secured one win.

The majority met his return to the side with apprehension. McClaren’s reasoning for Baird being in the team was the height advantage he had to help with defending set pieces.

Despite comfortably beating Rotherham 3-0 and putting in a solid performance, many were in agreement that the level of opposition left a lot to be desired.

Fast forward five games and the Rams are unbeaten and have only conceded two goals.

The initial fear of bringing Baird back into the fold was Derby losing the attacking threat that Christie posed from the right back position.

But what is one’s loss is another person’s gain. Tom Ince has benefited from Baird’s introduction to the team.

Baird’s tendency to stay behind and cover defensively has allowed Ince to be more of an attacking threat.

Ince has scored five goals in the six games that Baird has played in the side.

Comparisons to the 2013-2014 side will be drawn naturally.

Andre Wisdom was the right back in the Derby side that year and like Baird, was rarely seen in the opposition half.

Wisdom is still held in high regard by Rams fans. His no nonsense approach to defending and stable, calming influence in the back four was a major factor behind that side’s success.

Baird provides an almost identical style of play to the side.

The whole dynamic of Derby’s season has changed considerably in the last two months, so too has Chris Baird’s role in this side.

Cyrus Christie will be watching from the sidelines considering the possibility that he may have to settle for a place on the bench when he returns from injury.

If Baird continues with his impressive form, not many fans will have many arguments with that.

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