Celtic are set to meet a familiar face on Sunday.
Craig Gordon, the Bhoys’ ex-stopper, will be in goals for Heart of Midlothian for Sunday’s Scottish Cup Final. Not only is there the obvious story, there’s a subtext. Celtic have suffered a goalkeeping crisis this season, but we let the Hearts man go.
With Vasilis Barkas and Scott Bain struggling, the Bhoys have cast glances at Southampton’s Fraser Forster yet again. With Craig Gordon exiting Celtic on a free transfer, all of the goalkeeping eggs were placed into the Barkas basket.
It hasn’t worked out.
There is a prevailing feeling amongst the Celtic support that letting Gordon go was a mistake. When Barkas was dropped, Bain deputised to dreadful effect.
Is it possible, however, that we’re viewing latter-era Craig Gordon with green-tinted spectacles?
When Gordon left, he didn’t leave as Celtic’s number 1
While Craig Gordon was undoubtedly a fantastic shot-stopper on his day, it’s not like he was continually undisputed number 1. When Neil Lennon brought in Forster for a second time, that was made abundantly clear (BBC).
Gordon, good as he was, was often capable of a blunder (JOE). In Europe especially, his normally commanding aura looked shaky (Scottish Sun), and it’s often forgotten that Dorus De Vries was brought in to replace him (BBC).
Under Rodgers, his inability to pass successfully was constantly questioned. Fine, de Vries was a dud at Celtic Park, but Gordon’s confidence would’ve been knocked by that ordeal. Under Lennon, he was replaced with a club legend at the first opportunity.
As his years went on at Celtic, he conceded more goals season-on-season (Transfermarkt). There’s zero argument that Gordon was a good goalkeeper, but we got diminishing returns from him.
When he was released, it wasn’t to much fanfare. Celtic fans expected Forster to come back permanently, or that we’d find a long-term replacement. It’s only now, with Conor Hazard forced into the first team, that Gordon looks good.
Prospering at Hearts
So far this season, Gordon has kept 3 clean sheets in 7 Championship matches (Transfermarkt). That’s not bad, but you might expect a team so obviously superior to their league rivals to have conceded fewer goals.
The former Scotland goalie will be well up for Sunday. It would be odd to suggest he has anything left to prove at 37, but he’s a Jambo through and through (Daily Record). At the weekend, his relationship with Celtic becomes irrelevant.
Robbie Neilson has praised his keeper in the run-up to the final, saying (Daily Record):
“He’s been great since day one. And he will be a big part of the game on Sunday. As a back four there is nothing better than having a guy like that behind you.
“He is very vocal and he organises behind you. If he is shouting for it, he is going to come and claim it. The defence has done very well this season and he has been one of the key aspects of that.
“To get an opportunity to play in a cup final against the guys who have just let you go is a big motivation for him. So we need to help him make sure he gets a result.”
That’s entirely fair enough. But whether Gordon will give Celtic fans much to ponder is debatable.
His release from Celtic ensured him game time at the club he loves. We revitalised his career after seemingly endless injury woes. The relationship was mutually beneficial.
But as we approach Sunday’s Cup Final, you might ask “do we miss Craig Gordon”?
I’d suggest that, despite everything, we needn’t.