Small details matter for comeback kid Craig Gordon

Celtic goalkeepers Craig Gordon, right, and Lukasz Zaluska prepare for tomorrow's game against Hamilton. Picture: SNS
Celtic goalkeepers Craig Gordon, right, and Lukasz Zaluska prepare for tomorrow's game against Hamilton. Picture: SNS
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Although he caught the eye again with a string of instinctive saves for Celtic against Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday night, Craig Gordon gains more delight from what many people consider to be the more mundane tasks of being a goalkeeper.

Gordon was in inspirational form again as he helped ensure Celtic took all three points from a tricky tie with the Croatia champions. This was the 31-year-old’s tenth game of the season since making a career comeback following such a long lay off with injury and he is feeling more comfortable with each passing game.

Defender Efe Ambrose yesterday paid tribute to Gordon by comparing him to former Celtic No 1 Fraser Forster, who recently moved to Southampton in a £10 million deal.

Gordon, of course, once moved between Hearts and Sunderland for 
£9 million to become the most expensive British goalkeeper but saw his 
career threatened by a knee injury.

Perhaps illustrating how far Gordon had slipped from public consciousness is Ambrose’s admission yesterday that he was unaware of just how good a goalkeeper he was.

“I didn’t know Craig before, but he’s like Fraser Forster in that when you need a big save, he does it,” he said. “It gives us all confidence.”

But although there is a growing feeling that Gordon should be handed the No 1 jersey for Scotland as well as Celtic, with Gordon Stachan’s side set to entertain Georgia a week today in a Euro 2016 qualifier, the goalkeeper himself is taking things one step at a time.

“I just keep trying to improve,” he said yesterday. “I’ll do that regardless of whether I’m playing well or poorly. I always want to improve my game. There have been a few difficult games especially in Europe where I’ve had to produce a few saves but that’s what I’m there for.

“I’m feeling more comfortable every week,” he added. “It’s small things like decision-making – when to come out and when to stay in – that can be more difficult sometimes than making 
instinctive saves.

“It’s those small things in the game that people maybe don’t realise. They are the last things to come back when you’ve been out for so long.

“Judging the flight of cross balls, balls over the top of the defence, when to come out and when to stay, just getting your angles right for shots from different places on the park, and just really knowing where the goal is behind you.

“These are just little things that come with playing the position and getting games under my belt.”

Gordon signed a two year-deal with Celtic in the summer with the option of another year and such caution seemed to suit both parties as he sought to prove he could be as good as he once was.

Some might have wondered about Gordon’s state of mind after more than two years out of the game. Indeed, there were serious doubts over whether he would play again, never mind add to his 40 Scotland caps.

Excelling in the Scottish domestic scene is one thing, but proving so outstanding in high-octane European encounters, as has happened against Red bull Saltzburg and Dinamo Zagreb, is something else. Gordon contends that the standard on Thursday was as high as in the Champions League play-offs against Legia Warsaw and then Maribor.

“I don’t think the teams we’ve played so far would be at all out of place in the Champions League,” he said of Saltzburg and Dinamo. “In fact, the boys were saying in there that the past two games we’ve played in this competition were maybe of a higher standard than the games we played to try and qualify for the Champions League.

“So it’s good teams we are playing against. There are no poor teams at this stage. They’re of a standard where it’s still extremely hard to get points on the board.”

While Gordon is not sure whether he had mental scars to heal, he does agree that by playing so well in a consistent run of games since making his return at the start of the season helps prove to himself that he is inching his way back to his best. “I honestly never thought it [a psychological problem] was there,” he said.

“But perhaps subconsciously, without really thinking about it, I had to cross a bridge psychologically.

“I was nervous when I first played again as I was concerned with how things would go. I still get nervous before every match but that’s getting less with every game I play now. I’m just going out there and training as much as I can to try and improve.”

The games are coming thick and fast and he now turns his attention to facing Hamilton Accies, who are sitting second in the league, three points adrift of Celtic. “They are up there on merit by playing some great football,” he said.

“It’s will be a difficult game for us but it’s one we are desperate to win so we go into the international break in a better position.”

That break could turn out to 
prove more demanding for Gordon than simply sitting on the bench for Scotland.