Date: 25th February 2007 at 12:08pm
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One Dons player will watch the Carling Cup Final today with more interest than just admiring the class and skills that the two teams, Arsenal and Chelsea, abundantly possess in their ranks.

Former Sunderland defender Dan Smith was involved in a huge media storm after his then team contested a fiery match against the Gunners, in which The Black Cats lost 3-0 and Smith was accused of deliberately trying to injure Arsenal`s Abou Diaby after a mistimed tackle. Smith was shown the yellow card by referee Dermot Gallagher for the challenge.

Diaby suffered a fractured and dislocated ankle after Smith`s lunge which infuriated Arsene Wenger as his player was kept out the game for months and prompted this post match response from the Arsenal manager. ‘It was a bad kick and an unneeded one,’

‘It’s one thing to lose the player but the other thing is that I believe the spirit of the way he has been kicked – and [Cesc] Fabregas a few times – is not acceptable.

‘When you play against people who do not try to play, it is very difficult to take. It’s sad – if an accident happens when both go for the ball, it’s OK – I think the referee [Dermot Gallagher] and the press as well, cannot accept that. The only one that did not see the red card is the referee.’

Sunderland’s then caretaker boss Kevin said at the time, ‘Dan Smith is not a malicious, dirty player and I think it’s then unfair to make that call on him and say he deliberately went to do it.

‘Dan went for the ball; unfortunately Diaby was quicker than him.

‘I have to defend my player because I do feel Dan Smith did not intentionally go through him.’

Diaby has fought his way back from injury and should line up against Jose Mourinho`s team today as Wenger goes looking for his first ever win over Chelsea.

Dan Smith has kept a check on Diaby`s progress since that incident and is delighted to see that he`s made a full recovery.

Smith said ‘I watched Abou play in the semi-finals against Spurs and it was great to see him play well.

‘That tackle received a lot of hype and attention but it was not intentional.

‘It is not in my nature to hurt a fellow professional, it was just a mistimed tackle that happened in a split second.

‘I really would like to wish him all the best for the Carling Cup final.’

It can be no coincidence that after the incident and the media furor that inevitably proceeded it, the highly rated defender was Pittodrie bound just six weeks later.

He added: ‘It wasn’t the tackle that maybe affected my time in England but the hype surrounding it.

‘There was hate mail and phone calls to the club which was disappointing, but that’s all in the past now.’

‘You could say my career at Sunderland was cut short,’ he said

Smith came north with some serious pedigree. As well as his Premiership experience, 21 year old Smith has been capped at both England Under 16 and Under 17 levels but his career at Aberdeen has stalled through injury so he is only now making his mark on the first team with appearances in Aberdeen`s last three matches.



‘I have absolutely no regrets about coming up to Aberdeen.



‘Now that I am settled it is time for me to kick-on and push for a regular first team spot.’



‘It has probably been harder to break into the team than I thought it would be,’ he said.

‘Aberdeen have had a very good season so it has been tough to get into the starting line-up.’

Despite Smith now starting to show the ability that made him an English national youth pick, he`ll soon face competition for his left back slot as the return of Richie Byrne looms nearer. Calderwood is inexplicably a big fan of Byrne, he`s bemoaned his absence almost daily since his injury which means it will take some outstanding performances from Smith in the games until Byrne is fit enough to return to keep the position as his own.

Even then Smith can be guaranteed nothing; such is Calderwood`s admiration of the Dubliner.