Gabbidon back in the groove to start campaign

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The Independent Football

Danny Gabbidon believes he has bounced back to fitness at the perfect time in crucial games for club and country in the opening weeks of the season.

The Wales centre-back, who was voted West Ham United's player of the season in the last campaign, had not kicked a ball in pre-season until this week as he recovered from a summer hernia operation.

But 45 minutes for the Hammers against Olympiakos at the weekend and then 75 minutes for Wales in their 0-0 draw with Bulgaria in Swansea on Tuesday gives Gabbidon a fighting chance of starting the season.

West Ham open their Premiership campaign with games against Charlton, Watford and Liverpool before Gabbidon turns his attention back to Wales' Euro 2008 campaign which starts in the Czech Republic on 2 September.

Gabbidon looked, not surprisingly, a little rusty against the Tottenham new boy Dimitar Berbatov at Swansea's Liberty Stadium, but that was just the work-out he needed.

"We feel we are in decent shape, it was a good performance against Bulgaria and now we are looking forward to the Czech Republic game in a couple of weeks," Gabbidon said. "It hasn't been the best preparation for me this summer. I would like to have played more games but at least I got 45 minutes against Olympiakos at the weekend and now a good hour for Wales. I'll now be back in full training, I'm a bit short of fitness, a bit rusty, but I am sure that when the first game arrives I will be ready.

"If the gaffer wants me to play in the season's opener against Charlton I'll be there, no problem. I've had a little taste now of proper matches after the summer out recovering from my hernia operation, so I can't wait. I'll be available for selection."

As for Wales, who have gone four games unbeaten now as they prepare for their qualifying campaign, Gabbidon believes they are on the right track.

He said: "We are more than pleased with the way things have been going. There have been a lot of changes and plenty of new, young players coming into the squad.

"We can take confidence from this game, things have been building up nicely for us and now we are aiming for the first European qualifier and we need to start the campaign well. We must not make the same mistake we made in the last campaign for the World Cup by failing to win our opening games. That must not happen again."

His words were echoed by the Everton midfielder Simon Davies, who had one of his best games for Wales against the Bulgarians, and was one of the few Premiership players not substituted by the manager John Toshack in the second half.

Davies said: "We are going into the qualifiers with a bit of confidence, the young players have had enough games and the experienced ones now know what they are all about."

For Davies it has also been a heartening pre-season after a string of injuries over recent seasons.

He said: "I've had a good pre-season, my first injury-free one for three years and I am feeling the benefits of that. Hopefully I can take this form into the season with Everton and Wales."

Ryan Giggs has hailed the return of the veteran John Hartson. Giggs, the Wales captain, said: "John had his own reasons for retiring which we all accept, but he will be welcomed back with open arms because we need as many quality players as we can and John is certainly that. You have seen we play good football, but we have to keep it on the floor while John gives us that different option."