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Gabbidon says sorry to Smith

CARDIFF CITY defender Danny Gabbidon, who is set to win his second cap for Wales against Croatia this evening, has issued a belated apology to the manager who gave him a Football League debut seven years ago.

CARDIFF CITY defender Danny Gabbidon, who is set to win his second cap for Wales against Croatia this evening, has issued a belated apology to the manager who gave him a Football League debut seven years ago.

Gabbidon, 23, still has a lot of time for Wrexham boss Denis Smith, who gave the highly-rated youngster a first team place at West Bromwich Albion as a raw 16-year-old, when the current Racecourse boss was manager at the Hawthorns.

But it was Gabbidon's wonder goal at Ninian Park last season that condemned the Dragons to a 3-2 defeat after the Racecourse outfit had battled back and cancelled out a 2-0 deficit.

"Denis gave me my league debut and I'll always be grateful for that," he said.

"I enjoyed working for him and it all went pear-shaped for me at Albion when he left, so it was a bit ironic that I scored against him when I got that goal against Wrexham last season.

"He couldn't have been happy with that I suppose. It was probably one of the best I've ever scored and I'm sorry it was against Denis - but that's the way it goes.

"I liked him and I think the fact that he was a centre-half himself made a big difference.

"He was a tough character when he played and I learned quite a lot from him. Hopefully I'm a bit like him as a player as well."

Gabbidon, who was at left back for Wales in a 0-0 draw against the Czech Republic on his Millennium Stadium debut back in March, is likely to be in his preferred role as a central defender in Varazdin tonight due to the absence through injury of Robert Page.

And manager Mark Hughes is predicting a bright international future for a player who is number one choice at Ninan Park ahead of more established figures such as Spencer Prior.

But Gabbidon is taking nothing for granted, realising that his inclusion in the team has been influenced by the high level of absenteeism in the Welsh squad.

"I've been in the squad four or five times now and it's a case of keeping my form and staying in there," he said.

"I probably wouldn't have expected to start the game but for all the withdrawals and I have to admit I prefer to be in the centre of the defence. I played at left back against the Czechs and felt I did okay. To be honest I'm happy to play anywhere if it gets me a game and I was switched about quite a lot at Cardiff last season, so it's not as though it's anything new.

"Now I've started the new season at Cardiff and the gaffer, Lennie Lawrence, says he wants me at centre-back, so if I keep showing the promise and hold down my first team place, hopefully I'll get more chances for Wales."

But Gabbidon, who has City team-mates Robert Earnshaw and Rhys Weston for company in Croatia, admitted he had yet to come to terms with being in a senior international squad.

"I'm still a little bit overawed but I'm getting used to it now," he added.

" I t helps having another couple of Cardiff lads here but, to be fair, everyone else has gone out of their way to make me feel part of the squad."

Fulham stalwart Andy Melville reckons he has got one last chance of playing for Wales in a major finals.

The big defender, who will probably captain his country tonight for only the second time, sees the coming European Championship qualifiers as his final fling.

Plenty of other Wales stars since 1958 - the one and only time they played in a major competition finals - have felt the way the 33-year-old now feels, but he is determined to go out with all guns blazing.

Melville said: "I feel this will be my last chance. In two years' time, at the end of the European campaign I will be 35, so there will be a big question mark over me then.

"Hopefully I can have a nice story to tell at the end of it and it will be a nice way to finish up. It could well be my last campaign, I may be too old for the World Cup qualifiers after that.

"I may feel OK in two years' time, but we will have to see what the future holds. I feel okay at the moment and hope that continues."

Melville has greater confidence now in Wales' future than many players have felt in the past.

He said: "There is a belief in the squad. Mark Hughes has made us believe in ourselves.

"A few years back people would have looked at our European group and said 'no chance' with Italy in there, Yugoslavia and a Finland side that has Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypia. But we feel we can get something from all those matches now.

"This is as important a season for Wales as I can remember.

"We have set ourselves up with some great results at the Millennium Stadium, so now we must start doing it away from home where we have come unstuck in the past."

He added: "With the away game with Finland now very close, we must get that winning habit in away games too.

"It's good that the public are now saying that we actually could qualify for something this time.

"It's maybe a rod for our own backs, but the performances have improved."

Despite his optimism Melville has also exercised a note of caution.

"We must be careful we don't fall flat and get carried away because we have won a few games," he said.

"We must kick on again, keep improving and not allow ourselves to start believing our own publicity.

"It's how Ireland started. They won a few games, then a few more and then their qualifying groups started to get easier. Now they find themselves as the top seeds in their forthcoming European group."


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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