Steve can't bank on a star turn

IF Steve Banks was in any doubt about the size of task facing him to depose Hearts No.1 Craig Gordon, the past couple of weeks have underlined the enormous challenge facing the Englishman.

George Burley plucked the 33-year-old from Gillingham on a two-year contract in August, the Jambos boss regarding the experienced shot-stopper as the ideal back-up for his young internationalist with Finn Tepi Moilanen having left the club in the summer. Banks first met Gordon at a goalkeeping course at Crewe in the summer but is the first to admit he didn't know too much about the talented Gorgie star prior to his arrival.

"I actually met Craig for the first time during the first week of a goalkeeping course at Crewe during pre-season. I didn't know about Hearts' interest at that stage but did appreciate he was a decent keeper.

"Since I've come to the club, though, he has been outstanding and going from strength to strength not only in our team but also with the national side as well."

Gordon's form between the posts at Tynecastle has seen him cement his place as his country's first choice under Walter Smith.

His injury-time stop from Motherwell's David Clarkson is already a contender for save of the season, the keeper throwing himself to his left to palm away the Fir Park star's powerful shot and maintain his side's 100 per cent start to the league campaign.

The 22-year-old was also on the top of his game in Sunday's live televised clash at Livingston, producing at least three magnificent saves against the struggling Lions. "The late save he made against Motherwell was unbelievable and he also made a number of good stops at Livingston," said Banks.

"I don't think he gets the accolades he deserves sometimes due to the fact that we keep winning and scoring lots of goals.

"I think he has made six or seven saves in games already this season which could easily have been goals and there is no doubt he has played a key role in the results we have achieved so far." Banks, whose career has seen him pull on the gloves at West Ham, Wimbledon, Blackpool, Stoke City, Bolton and Gillingham has settled quickly into his latest new surroundings.

He is well aware of the magnitude of the challenge which Gordon currently provides but he's looking forward to helping the youngster along the way while waiting for his big chance.

"It's been a great start to the season for us and the lads have all made me feel very welcome," he said.

"I know Malcolm Webster (pictured right) the goalkeeping coach pretty well and Hearts were looking for an experienced keeper to try to push Craig on and fill in when needed.

"At the moment it is going to be very hard to dislodge him from the team. But maybe I am part of him playing so well.

"I have come here to try to put pressure on him and maybe he's responding to that and that can only be good for all of us." He added: "I know George from playing against his teams and I was delighted to come here.

"Things are going well and the buzz around the place is terrific."

Banks journeyed north for his first sight of Tynecastle for the derby showdown against Hibs in early August and he was sold on the club as soon as he saw the hosts romp to a stunning 4-0 triumph.

"I was lucky enough to come up for the derby game against Hibs when we won 4-0. I was there with my family, we played great, it was a sell-out and the atmosphere was tremendous.

"That gave me a fair idea what I was coming to and I couldn't have asked for any better. I hadn't signed at that stage but had come up to have a look around the place and chat to a few people. The whole day was pretty impressive.

"I know what George expects from his players and I'm looking forward to the challenge here. Nobody wants to play second fiddle for too long and hopefully my opportunity will come along at some stage. I've just got to be patient."

With the Jambos proudly sitting at the top of the SPL with six wins from their opening six matches, Burley's reign could not have been launched in better style.

Supporters are aware that many observers are just waiting for the Gorgie bubble to burst but Banks is not one to subscribe to that theory.

He was down south as Arsenal marched to the English Premiership title on the back of an unbeaten season and the goalkeeper insists that's the sort of standards Hearts must strive for. He said: "We have got to continue our form. There's no point in starting so well and then fading away after Christmas. We have to keep things going.

"I think they are now expecting us to win every game after the start we've had. People say they can't see that happening but you can never say never in this game.

"Look how Arsenal went through a season undefeated. I say: 'Let's go for it'. We try not to look too far ahead and the most important game is the next one. Next up is Inverness and then we'll turn our attentions to Rangers."

One thing which has struck Banks in his short spell at Tynecastle is the enthusiasm shown by the fans, the famous ground having sold out for the visits of Hibs, Aberdeen and Motherwell.

The travelling support has also been remarkable this season, Sunday's clash at Almondvale seeing around 6000 fans converge on West Lothian.

That followed the 5000-plus who descended on Tannadice for last month's clash with Dundee United and Banks said: "In some of our away games we have had more supporters than the home team which has been great.

"That just shows the interest in Hearts and how well we are doing. But we have to try to keep things going as well as we can. The gaffer has made a number of excellent signings. They are all fine players for their ages and look like they will only get better here under George."

If the same is true for Gordon, it could be a long season ahead for his team-mate.