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MIXED EMOTIONS

Posted on 17 August 2007  - 12:00

Gareth Bale reflects on football's highs and lows when you mention Derby County to him.

Gareth Bale reflects on football's highs and lows when you mention Derby County to him.The 18-year-old played three times against the Rams for his previous club Southampton last season and experienced all the ups and downs football can so often provide.

The first game saw him score a stunning free-kick aged just 16 as the two sides drew 2-2 on the opening day, while the last ended in frustration, the Welsh international picking up an injury in the play-off semi-final first leg, as Derby left St Mary’s with a 2-1 win en route to clinching a place in the Premier League.

It was Gareth’s first goal of his career as a pro and one he thinks will be hard to better.

“It was my first professional goal, a free-kick in the first game of last season and it’s probably still the most memorable goal I’ve scored,” said the summer signing from the Saints.

“I didn’t really know what to think when it went in, it was a bit of a shock. I didn’t think I would score but it was a great feeling, you don’t get many feelings like that in your career. It was a great experience.

“I was practicing free-kicks in training and caught the manager’s eye so he thought he would give me a go and thankfully it paid off. It wasn’t a bad start. All I can do is keep practicing and hopefully I’ll get a few more.”

Nine months later and Gareth lined-up again against the Rams in the play-off semi-finals – Billy Davies’ men ran out winners and later booked their place in the Premier League via a 1-0 win against West Brom at Wembley.

“I got injured in the first play-off game at home at St Mary’s. It was in the first half and I landed awkwardly, that was a bad blow for me to miss out on the rest of the play-offs but I suppose you have to say ’that’s life’,” revealed Gareth, who then gave a little insight into Saturday’s opponents.

“Derby are quite a physical team, they like to get stuck in and let you know they are about but they are not a bad footballing side either. They can use the long ball if they need to with Steve Howard up front and make it hard for teams.

“Howard is so physically strong in the air it’s hard to win a header against him because you can’t get around him or over the top to win it, so you have to be clever with him.”