There must be a feeling in the recesses of Craig Gordon’s mind that his month out of the Celtic side might all just have been a bad dream.
The Scotland keeper can reflect on a four-week period in which he has performed faultlessly in his first two outings in the Champions League, not lost a goal in domestic competition across 415 minutes of football and helped Celtic into the season’s first cup final courtesy of Sunday’s 1-0 victory over city rivals Rangers in the semi-finals of the Betfred Cup.
In short, the 6ft 4in keeper’s standing at the club currently appears as high as ever. Yet, in August there was a feeling it might be diminished beyond repair. Then, in quick order, Dorus de Vries was signed and elevated to first choice at Gordon’s expense by Brendan Rodgers, pictured. The Irishman was unabashed about stating he had made the switch because the new keeper’s distribution with his feet set him apart from the man he replaced and was vital in allowing Celtic to build from the back in a manner that was fundamental to his system.
Now Rodgers presents Gordon as a man who has seen the light over what is required from a sweeper-keeper in his team framework by improving his ability to pick out and deliver passes.
The 33-year-old from Edinburgh believes lines of communication have improved too. “Now I know [what he wants] as he went into it in great detail,” Gordon said ahead of tonight’s clash with Ross County. “It wasn’t something we did straight away but certainly the manager wants to get a lot of information into the team. As we’ve developed as a team,we’ve gone and worked on a lot more. Once I got to see exactly how it was working I felt a lot more comfortable in being able to do it myself and execute what he wants me to do.”
Gordon is not so comfortable with making an assessment on whether, having started the last five games, he sees himself as having been restored to the status of the club’s No 1. “It doesn’t really matter. It’s about staying in the team and doing what the manager wants me to do,” he said. “When you are in possession of the gloves or the shirt you want to hang on to it. So it’s about doing the things he wants me to do.
“That’s three domestic clean sheets in a row now, so it’s been pretty good. We’re starting to form partnerships and it’s been something we’ve been working on for a long time. But it does take time and we feel as though we’re getting there with the positions we’re looking to get in to build attacks.”
Whatever mental anguish he has gone through this season, Gordon wouldn’t appear to feel euphoric after racking up a first win over Rangers this season, six weeks on from missing the 5-1 derby dismantling at Celtic Park. “I tend to take these things in my stride and don’t get too high and don’t get too low,” he said. “No-one wants to be out of the team but certainly since I’ve come back in I’ve felt confident in the way the team has been playing and the guys round about me.”
Rodgers’ side have only dropped two points in the Premiership but County beat Celtic at Hampden last season on their way to lifting the League Cup and also drew at Parkhead. And, after beating Aberdeen twice last term, manager Jim McIntyre insists his side are capable of pulling off a shock this evening.
“Celtic are absolutely flying,” McIntyre said. “They are creating chances at will and playing with a real energy. But we faced sides like that last season as well. We know we are capable having produced some big results last season, and it’s a chance for us to do that again.”