Danny Stands Aside

WELSH Footballer of the Year Danny Gabbidon will hand his Wales shirt over to Hammers team-mate James Collins this weekend for the World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland in Belfast, but warns Wales' Young Player of the Year that he won't be taking his West Ham United shirt so easily.

The Welsh duo are close friends after playing together at Cardiff City, and joined the Hammers for a combined £3 million this summer.

So far, it has been Danny holding down a place in West Ham's backline, partnered in central defence by Anton Ferdinand. And although James is pushing hard for a first-team place at Upton Park, Danny is not going to give up his starting place.

"I'm banned from the match in Belfast against Northern Ireland, so James can have my Wales shirt for this one," he said. "But I certainly don't want him taking my West Ham one off me as well.

"Seriously, James is a fine player and it's only a matter of time before he gets his chance.

"Obviously I don't want him taking my place in the team, but he's putting me under pressure and I have to keep playing well because he's really breathing down my neck.

"I do feel like a Premiership player now. I know it looks like I've taken easily to the Premiership but believe me it's been no breeze. It's been one hell of a change for me and at times very tough.

"It hit me the very first game against Blackburn Rovers when we ran out in front of more than 30,000 people, into a fantastic atmosphere as well.

"It's just been great ever since, although I've had to raise my game to another level and make sure that it stays there."

Danny has struck up an almost telepathic understanding with Anton Ferdinand at the heart of the Hammers defence, but admits that he wasn't quite on the Academy graduate's wave length at first.

"I must say that I found the Cockney boys a bit loud, particularly Anton," he said. "I couldn't understand anything he was saying at first, it was like he was speaking a different language.

"But we have got on really well, the whole defence has, and there's a really good understanding that has built up between us all.

"We've helped each other as the game's have gone along and struck up a solid partnership perhaps quicker than most people expected.

"I don't feel that I've made too many mistakes but there's still lots to work on as I try and improve as a player.

"One criticism levelled at me was about being too casual and that's something I've worked on.

"When I first arrived Alan Pardew had already watched me a lot for Cardiff and said that I took the ball over the half-way line, tried to take people on and then lost possession.

"He made it pretty clear that I wouldn't be doing that at West Ham. So far it's gone really well and hopefully as a team we can keep our good run going up until Christmas because this is going to be a really important time to get points on the board."