THE journey made by Craig Gordon this season is pretty much a microcosm of the campaign that yesterday delivered Celtic the Premiership title. A start cloaked with doubts gave way to performances that were proof of poise and strength and ensured the ending would be worthy of fanfare.
The 32-year-old made his 50th appearance of the season as Ronny Deila’s side swept Dundee aside on Friday night. Not for a decade has Gordon packed in as many games. As he struggled with a knee problem in recent years, it seemed probable he wouldn’t pack in any more, never mind a half-century of them.
“It’s a lot of games,” he said. “I don’t think there’s too many seasons I’ve done it throughout my career. Maybe once or twice at any stage. So to come back after a couple of years out and play that many games wasn’t something I expected to do.
“But it felt good to start with and the games kept coming thick and fast. I’ve coped with it physically probably better than I ever have. I feel stronger than at the start, there are things I’ve been working on off the pitch and the gym.
“The match sharpness and reading situations is something that was always going to be difficult coming back after that length of time but it’s gone well. I haven’t had any problems with the knee, not since pre-season. During games I’ve felt absolutely fine.”
Gordon was hardly the only one with problems at the club last summer. As the squad and the new manager struggled to find an accommodation over the demands surrounding playing style and lifestyle, there were plenty predicting the Norwegian would go the way of Tony Mowbray. Of course, that was never going to happen because Celtic’s structural and financial advantages in the current climate make it nigh on impossible for anyone to be unable to lead them to the title.
However, the convulsions over what was effectively two exits from the Champions League qualifying stages did raise the notion that Deila might prove an ill fit in the long term. Gordon doesn’t dismiss the teething problems that gave way to league success.
“When he first came in, he was trying to get his style of play across to the players in pre-season as well. So you couldn’t just go straight into the fitness work. He wanted to put the tactical side across as well. That was probably taking a bit more time [than was ideal] but he wanted to make sure he got that right and got the messages over. Everyone knows exactly what’s expected now. So with a good pre-season – and not much of a break to lose any fitness – we can look forward to the European games and give us a good chance.
“We’ve got a few loan players and there are bound to be comings and goings. There always is at a club like this. If we can strengthen and get better then it’s all going in the right direction. We’re more settled, know what the manager wants, both in attack and defence. I think we’ll have a better idea of knowing what we’re going into this time.”
Even though Aberdeen admirably pushed Celtic all the way until yesterday – game 35 of a 38-match campaign – Kris Commons said this week he never considered the Pittodrie side’s challenge presented any danger to the club’s four-in-a-row ambitions. Gordon offers a more generous assessment. “They’ve done brilliantly. Their record against all the other teams has matched ours, if not been better than ours. That shows how well they’ve done and how consistent they’ve been.”
There has only been one domestic downer for Celtic across the past six months – the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by Inverness, when Gordon was dismissed for clattering Marley Watkins with his team 1-0 up following the failure of officials to spot Josh Meekings’ penalty box handball.
“These things happen in football,” Gordon said of his red card. “I’ve seen in the last couple of days goalkeepers taking guys out and not getting sent off. The fact I ended up getting suspended for next year is hard to take. The competition is finished and it led to the team getting put out the cup. It’s disappointing it carries over. It’s the rules but I struggle to understand why in separate years and different competitions that is the case. But it is and I’ll have to deal with it.”
Gordon has dealt with much worse and came out on top. Just like his team.