Craig Gordon relishes battle with Allan McGregor for Scotland spot

Craig Gordon will win his 53rd Scotland cap if he gets the nod to play against Belgium on Friday evening. Picture: SNS.
Craig Gordon will win his 53rd Scotland cap if he gets the nod to play against Belgium on Friday evening. Picture: SNS.
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Craig Gordon had no difficulty
in being able to admire the work of his opposite number Allan McGregor from the 
other end of the pitch at Celtic Park on Sunday.

Now he admits he faces an anxious wait to discover if he will be watching his Rangers
rival from the substitutes’ bench at Hampden on Friday night.

Gordon was the man in firm possession of the Scotland No 1
jersey under Gordon Strachan at the end of the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

The Celtic goalkeeper’s form remains consistently impressive but his long-standing battle for the position with McGregor now enters a new phase as Alex McLeish bids to lead Scotland to the Euro 2020 finals in his second spell as manager.

Gordon emerged with a prized clean sheet from Sunday’s Old Firm debut but it was McGregor, who has not played in a competitive fixture for his country since 2015, who caught the eye with a display which restricted a dominant Celtic side to just a 1-0 victory.

“Maybe Allan will need a rest for the next two games because he was so busy on Sunday,” joked Gordon as he looks to add to his 52 caps by playing in Friday’s friendly
against Belgium and the Uefa Nations League opener against Albania the following Monday.

“Do I regard myself as Scotland No 1 at the moment? You have to take it one game at a time at international level. There is a new manager and you just don’t know.

“I have been happy with my form this season. I haven’t had a great deal to do but what I have, I have dealt with fine. It’s about keeping that consistency level up and then it is up to the manager.

“I hope to continue and play as many games as I can and I will work as hard as I can. But we will wait and see when the team is picked.

“We’ve got quite a young squad now but we’ve got a couple of old-timers still at the very back of it in me and Allan. I was talking to him about Sunday’s game, how he was feeling. He’s turning 37 in January, I’ll be 36. I like to mention that he’s a year older than me now and then, just so everyone knows that!

“I was just asking him how his body was holding up, swapping stories about how we’re both managing to keep going. It’s great that we’re both still here.

“We came through Edinburgh schoolboys together at 14 and 15, playing against each other – and playing, in fact, in the same team. I was playing a year up and would go to sit on the bench for the older schoolboys, while he was starting.

“The rivalry between us doesn’t change our relationship at all. We are different characters. We are different people with different lifestyles.

“But at the same time, we respect each other as goalkeepers. That goes both ways. We have had good careers and we respect what we have achieved in the game.

“There has never been any bad blood or animosity between us at any point. We both want to do the best we can for our careers and we have always respected the manager’s decision.

“Of course I could admire his performance on Sunday. Absolutely. He had some good saves in the game. We probably deserved a few more goals, probably should have taken some of the other chances we created, such was the dominance we had in the game. But you expect that from him, to pull off those types of save. He kept the score down.

“You just need to deal with what you have to do in any given game. It might be only one save, it might be five or six. That’s the way it is. I did expect to be busier on Sunday but that wasn’t the case.

“It can happen. There are times when you don’t expect to be busy and you can have three or four saves to make. There will be times this season when Allan won’t have a lot to do in games. It just so happened that he had a bit of work before this international break.”

Sunday was a third successive clean sheet for Gordon in a week which saw defender Dedryck Boyata – who could face Scotland for Belgium this week – reintegrate himself into the side after his alleged refusal to play in the Champions League qualifier against AEK Athens last month when he was upset by Celtic’s refusal to sell him to Fulham.

“Dedryck is a fantastic player and he showed in the last three games how important he 
actually is to the team,” said Gordon. “He got a little bit of stick from the fans over the last season or so but I think they’ve realised now, when he was missing, how much he does actually bring to the team. He went to the World Cup and played in three games there and I think he’s taken confidence from that and from training with some of the world’s top defenders. Belgium have some of the best defenders in the world. He’s taken a lot from them and come back even better.

“But for us as players, we always knew how good he was and how good he could be. He has absolutely everything, he’s so quick as well. He’s always there on the recovery as well to help out everyone else.

“As a team player he’s fantastic for that, he gives us absolutely everything, a real strength in the centre of defence. So to have him back for me has been huge. You can see that in the way the team is playing as well.”