Craig Gordon on the brink of emulating Aberdeen legend with 'pretty special' distinction as 'keeper's fairytale continues

Every time there’s a chance to speak to Craig Gordon in an international context these days it seems like there is an imminent personal milestone to ponder.

Earlier this season it was hitting the 60-cap mark. His 61st cap took him to 12th in the all-time men’s team appearance list alongside such luminaries as Ally McCoist and Richard Gough.

Now he’s standing on the brink of 65 caps, when he will enter the top ten. Equally notable is the identity of the player he will draw level with should be selected for tomorrow night’s friendly against Poland at Hampden Park. There are few more iconic Scotland players of the last half century than Willie Miller.

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The former Aberdeen defender actually presented Gordon with a medal to mark winning his 50th cap. The ‘keeper reached the half century on an otherwise forgettable night the last time Scotland were bidding to reach a World Cup finals. Their hopes of a play-off spot were nixed by failing to win in Slovenia.

Craig Gordon v Moldova in September. He is now the brink of winning his 65th cap and entering the top ten list of Scotland male appearance holders

The 2-2 result marked the end of Gordon Strachan’s tenure. By the time Scotland next played, the manager was gone to be replaced – temporarily – by Malky Mackay. The Netherlands formed the opposition for a friendly at Pittodrie that offered the chance to experiment.

Old dependable Gordon remained the last line of defence. Miller stuck his head round the home dressing room door at Pittodrie to salute the ‘keeper and present him with an award for 50 caps.

Miller’s own tally of 65 seemed an ambitious target back then. Gordon was uncertain how his body might continue responding to the rigours of club and international football. He was also unsure who the identity of Strachan’s replacement might be and whether he would continue as first choice.

For a long spell after Steve Clarke’s appointment, he wasn’t the preferred option.

Craig Gordon (centre) receives his 50th cap medal from Willie Miller (left) and Scotland interim manager Malky Mackay before the friendly against the Netherlands at Pittodrie in 2017

“And here I am another 15 caps later (ready) to join him (Miller) on that figure,” Gordon reflected. “It is quite something.

"Once I am finished playing and actually look back and take stock of all these things it will sink in then but at the moment I still have that drive to keep going for more and more.

“But yes, I do notice along the way special moments like this one. It is pretty special to get into the top ten.”

Gordon recalled the meeting with Miller five years ago. “He congratulated me on first of all reaching 50 caps but also on getting back into the Scotland squad after my first 39-40 caps the first time around and before the obvious break in the middle,” he said. “He congratulated me on getting to 50 and also on getting back to that level after injury. That was a nice moment to hear that from someone like him who had played so many times for Scotland."

Willie Miller in his Scotland pomp - before a Home International against Wales at Vetch Park in 1981

Gordon is reaping the deserved rewards for his commitment and continued professionalism. He kept coming back for more even after losing his Scotland place to David Marshall.

His patience and willingness to sit on the bench has been repaid since the start of this season, when Marshall’s lack of first-team action at Derby County coupled with Gordon’s superb form for Hearts saw the latter reclaim the No. 1 shirt.

Scotland could potentially play as many as eight games between now and the end of June meaning Gordon might be on the brink of breaking into the top five most capped Scotland players by the summer, bypassing the likes of Christian Dailly and Kenny Miller on the way.

Come next winter, with the possibility of at least three games at the World Cup finals, he could be homing in on Jim Leighton’s record total of 91 caps for a Scotland ‘keeper.

The news Marshall has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a hamstring injury means Gordon can permit himself to eye further targets. Former Hearts and Scotland teammate Colin Cameron even suggested in an interview earlier this week that his old pal can keep on playing for another six years – until he is 45 essentially.

That would take Gordon to 2028 – when Scotland are expected to be one of the hosts of a British Isles-hosted European Championships. The ‘keeper made his international debut as far back as 2004.

“Hopefully we could get a home tournament by then as well,” he said. “That is six years away…Things to aim for! But I think I will take it one season at a time. That is still quite a long way away…”

It is quite possible to imagine Gordon stepping out at Hampden for Scotland’s opening Euro 2028 game with Aaron Hickey, Scotland’s 25-year-old star right wing-back, alongside him. They crossed paths only briefly at Hearts following Gordon’s return to Tynecastle and before Bologna lured the teenager to Italy, where he has gone from strength to strength in Serie A.

“He looked a very good player right from my very first day,” recalled the ‘keeper. “He really stood out, and we knew that as Hearts were in the Championship he was going to move on.

“He’s a fantastic player and at that young age nothing seemed to faze him one little bit,” he added. “I think everybody knew at that stage that he was destined for big things."

As for himself, Gordon knows he won’t have it all his own way with Clarke looking to keep monitoring younger goalkeeper talent.

St Johnstone's Zander Clark has been recalled following Marshall’s withdrawal. Motherwell’s talented ‘keeper Liam Kelly is also included this time around. ““They are both good goalkeepers and I’ll need to make sure my performances are still at a very high standard to keep them behind me,” said Gordon.

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