Celtic keeper Craig Gordon is proud to pass with flying colours

Clean sheets are not the only way of '¨measuring a goalkeeper's worth. Take '¨Saturday, for example. Craig Gordon beat the ground in frustration at having failed to keep out Eamonn Brophy's second-half penalty.

Celtic were already leading 4-0 against Kimarnock and would go on to win 5-1 to usurp their opponents as league leaders.

While Gordon was irked at the concession of a goal, there was more to his game than perhaps met the eye. For the second time in recent weeks he could boast a 100 per cent pass completion record.

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It’s especially satisfying since distribution is one area of his game that’s been routinely questioned. This supposed weakness briefly threatened his long-term future at Celtic. Dorus De Vries replaced Gordon for a spell two seasons ago after joining from Nottingham Forest. Among the qualities of his that attracted Brendan Rodgers, who worked with the goalkeeper at Swansea, was the Dutchman’s ability with the ball at his feet.

Craig Gordon is gearing up for this weeks Europa League clash against RB Salzburg.

De Vries looked set to be installed as Rodgers’ preferred No 1 until a series of shaky moments led to Gordon’s reinstatement. He’s barely looked back. He’s also taken on board the need to work on this side of his game. Goalkeepers are now viewed as starting points for attacks. Gone are the days when they could concentrate on simply stopping shots and gathering crosses. Now they have to be able to play out from their goalmouth – something that’s not always appreciated by nervous fans.

“At the weekend I had 100 per cent pass completion,” Gordon noted yesterday. “We didn’t play long at all. We managed to play through the lines really well and that’s something we always work on.

“It’s something fans have to get used to. Getting 100 per cent is not something that happens very often for a goalkeeper because there are times you have to go long.

“But to complete every single pass is something fans expect no matter if it’s ten or 60 yards.

“The coaches look at it over the season, the passes and the areas I pass it into. 
Statistically over the season it’s very good. People maybe don’t look in to that side 
too much and think every one should be completed.

“It’s something the coaches are looking for, is that kind of detail,” he added. “It’s not just keeping the ball out of the net. It’s did I play the right ball in the right areas, was it quick enough, was it to the right player? There’s a lot more to it now but it’s enjoyable. There’s definitely been improvement in recent months and years.

“I’ve managed 100 per cent a few times. I’ve done it a few times in recent weeks. It tends to happen at Celtic Park but we had it at Dundee the other week as well.

“It can happen from time to time but it’s not always the way we play. Sometimes the manager will set us up to play a little longer. It depends on the personnel and the opposition.

“We are a passing team but it’s not always the tactic. It’s a mixture that’s up to the manager and coaches and I’ll sit with Woodsy [goalkeeper coach Steve Woods] in the build-up to games to decide on 
exactly how I’ll go.”

Given RB Salzburg’s undoubted danger, it’s unlikely Celtic will risk playing out from the back to quite the same extent in this week’s Europa League tie as against domestic opposition. But ball retention remains as important – perhaps more so. Gordon will seek another perfect night against RB Salzburg, who drew 2-2 at 
Flyeralarm Admira on Saturday. But he will happily sacrifice a clean sheet and 100 per cent pass record if it means ultimately progressing to the next round. Celtic require only a point on Thursday to guarantee playing European football after Christmas.

Gordon doesn’t imagine Celtic’s commanding win over Kilmarnock at the weekend will make any real difference to how the Austrians approach the tie. The visitors will already know to be wary as Celtic seek a third successive win in their group. Gordon believes going for victory is the only way Celtic know how to play.

“We’ve been getting better and better and scoring five goals at the weekend has improved everyone’s confidence,” he said.

“They [RB Salzburg] know we’re playing well and on big European nights at Parkhead, we know that we can thrive in that environment while it’ll be a difficult test for them.

“Salzburg will also be confident so it should be a good game. Listen if it’s an open, entertaining affair and it finishes 2-2, so be it – at least we’ll be through.

“We want to be in the draw and then we’ll see what happens,” he added. “Teams will drop into this competition from the Champions League in the next round so there will be some really big names in it.

“There were two big clubs in our group but there will be even more we could face if we get out of it. It would be good to put ourselves in that position but it’s going to take a very good performance to do that.”