Hearts captain Craig Gordon is ready to be Scotland No.1 - but says he will take nothing for granted
Assumptions are dangerous in football. Particularly international football, where coaches often think differently outwith the routine club environment.
So Craig Gordon will join the Scotland squad this weekend taking absolutely nothing for granted in his quest to become the national team's No.1 goalkeeper again. He is in outstanding form in a resurgent Hearts team sitting joint-top of the cinch Premiership after three matches. Rivals for the position are not so well-placed.
David Marshall, Scotland’s first choice in all three European Championship games in June, is now third-choice at Derby County. The squad’s other keeper, Jon McLaughlin, is in and out of the team at Rangers so far this term.
St Johnstone’s Zander Clark and Motherwell’s Liam Kelly are both in contention for squad places but neither has a senior international cap. It all points to Gordon taking the field in Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium when Scotland resume their World Cup qualifying campaign against Denmark on September 1.
Just don’t expect the keeper himself to say that, or even think it. At 38, he is far too experienced to presuppose any situation in football. He also has strikingly-fresh memories of sitting on the bench watching Marshall in those Euro 2020 fixtures.
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. First of all, hopefully I get selected and go along and train well,” he said. “They’re massive games coming up. Three games in a week, it’s a lot of points to play for in a short space of time, so we need to have a good camp and get the points on the board if we want to make it to the World Cup.
“I’m always confident to go in. It’s a great camp to go into and a great squad to be a part of. The training is great quality and really intense. There are some really good players, so it was great to be part of that environment for the Euros. I’m looking forward to going back and trying my best in training and see where that takes me.”
Clarke needs a new keeper
Scotland manager Steve Clarke needs a new goalkeeper with Marshall inactive. Watching Gordon for Hearts offers reassurance that he need not search too far. Stupefying saves are almost a weekly occurrence again for the Tynecastle captain.
His contribution has been a major factor in an unbeaten start to the league season. “We still had confidence coming into the season that we could pick up points, we’re still undefeated, so that probably is ahead of where everybody thought we’d be at this stage,” said Gordon.
“We can take the positives from that, we’d like to have won on Sunday [against Aberdeen] and I think it was all there for us to go get three points, which would’ve made it a magnificent start.
“We’ve still got to be satisfied with what we’ve picked up so far. It’s going to be a long season, so we’ll take the seven points and move on to the next week.”
It is easy to forget that Hearts only just stepped up from the Championship and are still striving to reclaim status as a Premiership powerhouse.
“We’re rebuilding towards that. It won’t happen overnight, we’ll keep trying to improve and we’ve got a lot of fight in the squad. I think you could see that on Sunday in what was an intense game,” remarked Gordon.
“High pace, high energy, not always the best quality we’d have liked, but the fight was there. If the fans see that we’re willing to fight as much as that for each other, we’ll go on and have a successful season.”
John Souttar’s return from long-term injury in April is another key factor. It may not be long before the central defender joins Gordon in that Scotland squad once again.
“He’s doing well. He’s been playing games consistently since the back end of last season and into this one now, so he’s stayed fit for quite a while. It’s about him playing games and he’s getting close,” admitted the keeper.
“He’s been one of our best players this season, he just needs to keep that level of performance up and then it won’t be too much longer until everybody else is taking notice.”
Fans back at Tynecastle
A capacity Hearts crowd finally got the chance to appreciate both players against Aberdeen at Tynecastle following an 18-month wait. “Yeah it was brilliant. They’ve been missed,” said Gordon. “That atmosphere is special. Everyone that plays in Scotland mentions Tynecastle for atmosphere.”
It was the first time he had led Hearts out in front of a large attendance since his second stint as captain began. “It was huge. I tried not to think about it too much, because if I thought about that then it would have been too much for me.
“I just had to focus on what I had to do in the game. Definitely in the days leading up to the game, knowing I was going to do that was a great feeling.
“I had to shut that out while it was happening, because that’s the best feeling any Hearts fan can have. To go out in that atmosphere and lead the team out was special.
“I had a lot of family here to witness it. I’ve been back at the club for a while now, but that was the first time with the fans at Tynecastle. Hearing that Hearts song being sung, it’s so special to everyone in my family. It was a great occasion for me.”
There was also a mass scarf twirly in honour of the late Marius Zaliukas on 26 minutes. “It was a fantastic tribute, Aberdeen were lining up a free-kick at the time so I didn’t get a chance to watch it. I’d liked to have witnessed it a bit more and looked up into the stands.
“A fantastic tribute to a great player and a great captain, so I was pleased they did that for him.”