HENRY SMITH is certain Craig Gordon will battle his way back into the Scotland side – but insisted that George Burley left himself with no other option than to drop the big keeper.
Former Jambos stopper Gordon will sit out tomorrow's crucial World Cup clash against Holland and watch from the bench as Allan McGregor takes his place between the sticks.
The Rangers goalie has been preferred to the ex-Tynecastle skipper on the basis that he has been playing regular first-team football, while 9million Gordon has been playing for Sunderland reserves in recent weeks.
Gordon, who has been capped 35 times, dropped out of the Black Cats first-team picture when he suffered an ankle injury back in November and has found it difficult to oust replacement Marton Fulop, who has been playing out of his skin.
While Smith is staunch in his belief that Gordon would have provided a safe pair of hands despite his lack of game time, he reckons that George Burley's very public decision to keep striker Kris Boyd on the bench because of his lack of opportunities in the Rangers first team meant that the Scotland boss had backed himself into a corner. Hearts legend Smith, who was capped three times for his country, said: "Both keepers are quality, there's no doubt about that but I think the decision to keep Kris Boyd on the bench a few months ago because he wasn't playing regularly with Rangers left George Burley in a difficult position.
"He was between a rock and a hard place really because of that choice and it meant that he really had to go down that avenue. It would have looked like double standards if he had gone ahead and played Craig.
"Of course, the decision will have been tough for Craig to take. He has played so well for Scotland over the last few years and has never let his country down.
"Craig's done nothing to deserve being dropped and he probably thought that Burley would stick with him for this game.
"Goalkeeping coach Jim Stewart has obviously worked with both boys at Hearts and Rangers and now with Scotland too so he will see how sharp they are both looking.
"They're both professionals, though, and know this is how football works.
"I'm sure they'll both be prepared for the game because Craig knows that even if he is on the bench he will have to remain focused in case he has to come on as a substitute." While Smith acknowledges the fact Gordon will be hugely disappointed to have to watch from the sidelines tomorrow night, he believes that the emergence of McGregor can only be good news for the country as a whole.
With two keepers battling it out for a place in the starting line-up, Smith reckons that both keepers will have to stay on top of their game to maintain a run in the side.
And, with not only the game against the Netherlands to consider but also the crunch match with Iceland to follow just a few days later, Smith added: "For me, the Iceland game is the most important one.
"Everyone is focusing on Holland but Wednesday night's game is even more vital.
"If we can take a point from Holland and then look to win against Iceland, that would put us in a decent position.
"One thing that everyone can see now is that this country has two really good goalkeepers at their disposal. Neither of them will let Scotland down, you can be sure of that.
"Allan has been playing well for a couple of seasons now and, even though he has been playing in the reserves, Craig is always consistent. I thought that he did well when he came back into the Sunderland side for the cup game against Blackburn and I'm sure it'll just be a matter of time before he is back in the first team again."
Smith took part in the Home Nations Masters tournament in Liverpool earlier this week, lining up for Scotland alongside the likes of Gordon Durie, Kenny Black and Darren Jackson.
Unfortunately, the Scots came last out of the four countries, with the all-Ireland team taking the title, Wales finishing second and England in third place.
At 53, he was the oldest player taking part in the tournament and he laughed: "My daughter sent me a text on Wednesday night saying that the commentator had mentioned my age about a dozen times and that apparently I was the oldest player in the competition.
"Still, I don't feel it, and hopefully I don't look it either!
"It was great to be involved and although we didn't do as well as we had hoped, it was a pleasure to meet up with all of the boys again and get a run out.
"We always enjoy these tournaments no matter what the outcome is."