Chris Baird has thanked the Saints coaching staff after making his Premiership debut against Aston Villa.

Baird impressed in the Saints midfield when he came on for the last five minutes at St Mary's on Saturday.

And his good week continued yesterday when he was promoted from the Northern Ireland under-21 squad to the senior squad, who face Armenia tomorrow in a Euro 2004 qualifier.

The right-back has already been on the bench for the Northern Ireland senior side but another taste of the Premiership is what the 20-year-old from Ballymena is targeting now.

Baird, who is under contract until June 2004, has been with Saints since he was 16 and, although his preferred position is right back, he broke into the first team set-up after several impressive performances in the reserves' midfield.

He said: "Denis Rofe and Steve Wigley have been absolutely brilliant for me, they've helped me to come a long way and the manager has been telling me to keep playing the way I have been for the reserves.

"Getting my chance on Saturday was a mark of the progress I've made. I trod water last season.

"I don't know why but it didn't really happen for me, but I've come a long way since then and have been playing really well lately.

"I was asked if I wanted to go on loan somewhere a few months ago but I decided to stay here and see how I got on and it's paid off. I was always confident that it would."

Baird got his chance on Saturday following injuries to Jason Dodd and Anders Svensson and the decision to rest influential midfielder Chris Marsden, for whom a booking would have meant no FA Cup semi final place.

He added: "I was told I'd be in the squad on the Friday after training and have been in the squad for the last couple of matches but had not been named as a substitute.

"I thought I had a good chance of being on the bench because of all the injuries but I couldn't believe it when I was actually told a couple of hours before kick-off.

"I was obviously delighted to get on but a bit surprised because of the way things were going.

"It's not often that a defender gets thrown on when the team is losing so I thought my chance had gone.

"I was nervous at first but the nerves went as soon as I started running around.

"The gaffer joked that I turned it around but it was certainly nice to be on the pitch when we scored the equaliser."