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Gabbidon's feet firmly planted despite his rise

Not so Danny Gabbidon. While the rest of John Toshack's élite performers were re-tuning their frenzied beings to a decidedly low-key build-up to a couple of games that are qualifiers in name only, the pitch surrounding the young centre-half remained as feverish as ever. "Dan's The Man" screamed the Principality's national newspaper after he was voted Welsh Player of the Year, although the Western Mail might easily have bellowed "Dan's The Only Man" such was the Gabbidon landslide.

A poll of about 50 journalists proved so unequivocal in its favour of the boy from Cwmbran that the organisers confessed they had to add the names of John Hartson and Craig Bellamy, arbitrarily, just so the awards ceremony could boast a shortlist.

Still, they were aware their drum roll was to have all the tension of a ham roll, as the words of one Ryan Giggs signified even before the evening had begun. "Danny's been quite easily our best performer over the last few years," said the Wales captain, obviously disappointed to have Gabbidon suspended for yesterday's trip to Windsor Park. "He just gets better and better and impresses more and more."

West Ham fans would doubtless pop shoulders in the rush to second that and they only welcomed him into their own little kingdom two months ago after a £2.5m move from Cardiff City. In that short space of time, Gabbidon's emergence as a serious Premiership performer has neatly paralleled the club's and so numerous are the bubbles emanating from Upton Park at the moment you just know when he says, "we're playing really well, but not getting too carried away", he speaks only for himself.

In truth, though, it is likely Gabiddon would not get "too carried away" if West Ham won their first FA Cup since 1980 and Wales made their first major finals since 1958, all in the same week. The 26-year-old is so laid back spirit levels should be set by him. "Yeah, people have told me that," he laughed. "Mainly people at West Ham as it happens."

And when those "people" happen to be the manager and the most respected player the new kid tends to listen. "I've had to work hard on being too casual," he admitted. "The manager [Alan Pardew] said when he used to watch me at Cardiff I'd amble out of defence with the ball and lose possession a lot. He just said 'you won't be doing that here'. And if I ever did, Teddy [Sheringham] would let me know all about it. There have been plenty of games when he's run back the length of the field to shout at us lot in defence. You daren't ignore him as Teddy's the main man at West Ham. The women love him and so do some of the men. He's great to watch and to play with. Even when he's screaming at you."

Sheringham's "encouragement" has had the desired effect. West Ham have conceded just five goals in seven matches, a frugality that has assisted them up to the dreamy heights of eighth.

Gabbidon, however, is very much awake. "I still think I can do a lot better and am mindful how easily things could all go wrong," he said. "I mean, it's so bloody tough. One week you're playing Arsenal, then it's Liverpool, then Newcastle. Like, it never ends. Even when we beat Villa 4-0 it was still a difficult match for me, having to handle [Milan] Baros and all. That shows how difficult the Premiership is. It's been great so far, mind, and it helps we've won a few games already. I wouldn't want us to be looking over our shoulders wondering where the next point is coming from and then suddenly, 'Bam!' - Stamford Bridge this weekend, Old Trafford the next."

In fact, it is across Manchester where Gabbidon and West Ham will be next weekend, tackling Psycho's assortment of ravenous all-sorts, but before that comes Azerbaijan in Cardiff on Wednesday and Wales's last match of a miserable campaign. "We don't want to finish bottom of the group," he said. "That would be embarrassing. We're better than that and, believe it or not, there's still a good spirit in the camp. A lot of that is down to the new gaffer. He's more relaxed than Mark Hughes. You can still have an ice bath if you want one but now it's not compulsory. I don't bother."

That's probably a good thing. Gabbidon's so cool he'd only refreeze it.