Birthday boy gets a perfect present

IT WAS Welsh international Danny Gabbidon s birthday on Saturday, and for the first time in a long, long time he had something to celebrate, writes DAVE EVANS. The affable, cool, 30-year-old centre back, strolled on to the Upton Park pitch with 16 minutes

IT WAS Welsh international Danny Gabbidon's birthday on Saturday, and for the first time in a long, long time he had something to celebrate, writes DAVE EVANS.

The affable, cool, 30-year-old centre back, strolled on to the Upton Park pitch with 16 minutes to go as if he had never been away. But the fans knew just how much they had missed him, and they showed their appreciation.

"It was nice," said Gabbidon. "It's been a while since I played here and the fans have always been good to me from day one, since I came here.

"They gave me a good reception and hopefully I can stay fit and make a few more appearances this season."

It was December 2007 when Gabbidon last played at Upton Park, the Carling Cup quarter final clash with Everton, where his and Rob Green's mistake allowed the Toffees to book their place in the semis.

West Ham fans will prefer to remember the better days, when Gabbidon lifted the Hammer of the Year trophy, after helping his team to the FA Cup Final and into Europe.

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So how was it for the defender on his return?

"It was all right," he confirmed. "I didn't really have much time to play, but it was nice to come on and get a few minutes. I felt good and I'm just happy to be back training and back playing.

"It's been a long time so I feel good at the moment. Obviously I want to make up for lost time and try to be available for as many games as possible."

Gabbidon has never played a competitive game under West Ham boss Gianfranco Zola, but the defender has certainly come face-toface with the little Italian in training.

"He's a very good manager and a very good player as well, still!" he insisted. "When he joins in in training, he's very hard to mark.

"I'm enjoying it, all the players are enjoying it, because as you can see now, we are playing good football. That's how he wants us to play and that's always been the tradition of West Ham."

For Zola, the remergence of Gabbidon is like having a new player, and he has certainly impressed the West Ham boss.

"It's great to have him back, it is really, really fantastic," said Zola. "There were not many people saying that Danny would be back playing football again, so to see him playing is fantastic, and also to see him scoring goals is great.

"I am very pleased, and I must say he is a very good player. I didn't know him very much, and I am assuming that he is not 100 per cent at his best, but you can see he is a very good player."

Praise indeed, but Gabbidon is still likely to have to fight for his place in the starting line-up, even if Matthew Upson was to depart for pastures new.

It is something that the defender is prepared for though: "He hasn't said too much, but it is one of our strongest areas, so whoever plays is going to do a good job," said the Welshman.

"We'll see what happens next week with the first game, but I'm sure none of us will be too disappointed if we're not playing. There's a long way to go this season and anything can happen."

Gabbidon is right, anything can happen, and in the last couple of seasons the worst scenario has happened. It's about time the Welshman had a bit of luck and stayed fit to show exactly how classy he is.

Now that would be a fitting birthday present.

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