JOHN BAIRD seldom lacks composure.
The Raith Rovers striker relies on a keen sense of poise on the pitch, his record of five goals in as many matches this season suggesting that it is working rather well.
His diminutive stature, as much as his strike rate, marks him out for robust treatment from opposing defenders, yet his typical response is to direct the ball into the net. It has been thus throughout his career. Last season – as Raith mounted an improbable challenge for the title – Baird was on hand with 13, including a hat trick in the opening league match against Partick Thistle. His side eventually fell away, but the prolific striker’s reputation was enhanced.
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Yet it did not lead to a move to the Clydesdale Bank Premier League. Instead Gregory Tade, Baird’s strike partner, who scored a comparatively modest haul of nine goals, was snapped up by Inverness Caledonian Thistle, where he has yet to get off the mark this season. Unlike the Frenchman, Baird had last summer agreed a two-year deal and, in the overtly frugal environment of Scottish football, the obstacle of a transfer fee will have proved insurmountable for many clubs in the top flight. If Baird has grown to resent that decision, it doesn’t show.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised not to have moved on as I’m still contracted to Raith, so I always knew that if no-one else came in with an offer then I would be staying at the club, and I was more than happy with that,” said the striker, meeting a suggestion of disappointment with a typically decisive response. “I don’t know if other teams were interested, I just work hard to be at Raith, give 110% and see where that gets me. That’s all you can do.
“I don’t think you can expect anything in this game. Sometimes it will happen for you but I can’t expect anything. I’m at Raith Rovers and all I’m thinking about is going into training every day and playing football on a Saturday. I’m not really that interested in the other stuff to be honest.”
Baird has only fleeting experience of being a top-flight player, his three years with St Mirren coinciding with their promotion in 2006. His final two years there were spent on loan at Stenhousemuir and Montrose, so it is tempting to regard his time in Paisley as something of a disappointment. Baird is effusive, though, and is not yet of an age where his chance to play at a higher level has gone.
“I turn 26 [today] so I’m at the wrong end of 20,” he laughed. “There is no point in being in the game if you don’t have an ambition to play at the highest level. If you play your football in Scotland then you want to be playing in the SPL, but we’ll see what happens. That isn’t really in my hands. I just give 110% and if something happens then it does, and if it doesn’t then I can’t get too down about it.
“I’m enjoying what’s happening at the moment and hopefully it continues, but there are lots of good teams in this league. I will strive to get goals, and hopefully the manager will be happy with how I do.”
Raith, like Baird, have made a strong start to the season, with their draw at home to Morton on Saturday maintaining their unblemished league record and a place at the top end of the table. The Fife club are not expected to perform as well as they did last term – indeed, a struggle has been predicted – but they remain quietly confident.
“We don’t have the numbers but we’ve got good quality” said Baird. “We were really disappointed last season, but it’s just a matter of everyone rallying and we’ve made a good start. You never know, it was a decent run last season – it was just the last quarter that let us down.”
A win tomorrow over Airdrie United in the second round of the Scottish Communities League Cup will maintain the momentum. It is a tie which holds a certain resonance for Baird, who spent two seasons at the club prior to joining Raith.
“I’m looking forward to going back,” he said. “Hopefully I will get a better response from the fans than I did when I played against Montrose . . .”
You imagine Baird will not lose his composure, even if the Airdrie fans do.