Western Mail report on Gabbidon's return.

Last updated : 03 April 2003 By Michael Morris

DANNY GABBIDON, sporting a new, Rio Ferdinand-style blond hairstyle, returned with a swagger and a touch of relief.

After five months out of action, Gabbidon admitted it felt great to pull on the blue shirt of Cardiff City once more and he produced a performance which had all the qualities of his composed, laid-back style.

"It's great to be back and as it's a new start for me I decided on a new hair colour to go with it," said Gabbidon.

"It's been something I wanted to do for ages. If it's good enough for Rio, it's good enough for me."

Welsh international Gabbidon, 23, was on his toes from the start, scarcely putting a foot wrong during just over an hour playing for Cardiff City reserves against visitors from Barnet in North London. The game ended goalless, which was disappointing, but the result really didn't matter.

The return of Gabbidon, Gareth Whalley and Andy Campbell following long-term injuries was all that really mattered.

"It's like signing three outstanding players," said a delighted City manager Lennie Lawrence.

Gabbidon was at ease from the start. There was a moment of indecision when he took possession and Robert Still moved in unnoticed to steal the ball and launch a Barnet raid.

But that was the only moment when Gabbidon looked even the slightest bit embarrassed by young, eager opponents as he strolled through Saturday. his comeback appearance.

He was strong in the air, leaping as though he had never been away, and always looked at ease.

Such was the quality of Gabbidon's display that manager Lawrence should already be pencilling in his name for first team football.

He surely won't be involved against Queens Park Rangers at Ninian Park on Saturday, although Lawrence may yet be tempted to include him among the substitutes, and could even give him a full game for the reserves against Wycombe Wanderers next

But the Cwmbran-born defender can be expected to return against Chesterfield away on Sunday, April 13, at the latest - and play in the last six Second Division matches of the season.

Cardiff City have badly missed his pace at the back, an asset which so often got the Bluebirds out of trouble as they built their promotion bid.

It was at Barnsley's Oak-well ground during early November that Gabbidon was first seriously troubled by his back condition.

He had felt the odd twinge before, but he was forced off at half-time in South York-shire and had not played again before he returned yesterday.

Medical staff have worked strenuously on ensuring Gabbidon made a full recovery - and manager Lawrence refused to let the young defender play again before he was fully recovered.

"Danny is a man first and a footballer second," said Lawrence. "I was not prepared to take risks with his well being. The medical men have done a terrific job and have re-educated him right down to the way he breathes.

"Hopefully, he will be right now for 10 years or more."

Gabbidon was on his toes from the start, leaping to head clear and showing good composure and awareness in possession.

After such a long time out he won't be thrown back into Nationwide League action immediately, but he's well on the way to playing first team football again.

"It's been such a long time and I'm glad the end of the road is in sight," said Gabbidon.

"There were times when it crossed my mind I may not play again this season, but I never allowed those negative thoughts to stick around for long. That would have made me even more depressed.

"It was frustrating being out for so long, but I remained confident I would be back in time to help Cardiff City earn promotion and here I am. I hope to be back quickly, although that's up to the manager."

Cardiff fielded a powerful reserve team with Campbell playing the first half before he was replaced by Whalley.

Both are on the mend after long spells out, Campbell following a hernia operation and Whalley after damaging knee ligaments, ironically, in the same match at Barnsley which saw Gabbidon ruled out.

"It's amazing Danny and Gareth were both injured in the same match - and have now returned in the same game so many months later, an unbelievable coincidence," said Lawrence.

Cardiff City: M Walton, R Weston, K Huggins, D Gabbidon, J Collins (capt), M Bonner, D Hamilton, J Bowen, A Campbell, A Legg, G Gordon. Subs: G Whalley for Campbell, 45 mins; S Williams for Weston, 58 mins; B Anthony for Gabbidon, 61 mins.