Hearts boss Robbie Neilson hails Craig Gordon impact ahead of Celtic reunion

The 37-year-old returned to Hearts this summer after six years at Parkhead.

By Press Association Published: 19 December 2020 - 12.28pm
Football

Scotland

Celtic

Craig Gordon will give Hearts “every chance” of beating Celtic in the William Hill Scottish Cup final, according to Tynecastle boss Robbie Neilson.

While Celtic manager Neil Lennon has yet to find his first-choice goalkeeper this season, Neilson could not be happier with the man the Scottish champions jettisoned.

Gordon has produced some sensational stops to help Hearts lead the way in the Scottish Championship and beat Hibernian in the semi-finals.

After playing a major role in Celtic’s recent domestic dominance, the 37-year-old this summer rejected a contract offer that fell well short of his expectations.

Craig Gordon enjoyed a trophy-laden spell at Celtic Park
Craig Gordon enjoyed a trophy-laden spell at Celtic Park (Andrew Milligan/PA)

After being first choice for the first half of two-and-a-half seasons of Celtic’s treble-treble campaign, Gordon only played six times under Lennon, initially because of a knee injury but then because of Fraser Forster’s return.

Celtic failed to persuade Forster to sign up for another loan spell and signed Vasilis Barkas from AEK Athens but the Greek shot-stopper has failed to convince.

Lennon has switched between Barkas and Scott Bain before giving 22-year-old Conor Hazard his chance in the past two games, both victories.

All three have featured in the past month and any of them could start at Hampden on Sunday.

Robbie Neilson has been delighted with his goalkeeper
Robbie Neilson has been delighted with his goalkeeper (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Neilson, however, had no doubts about snapping up his former Hearts team-mate Gordon when Celtic opened the door.

“He has added a massive amount,” the Hearts boss said. “It was a real coup to get him here.

“I’ve been delighted with him from day one. When I first spoke to him, his main drive was to get first-team football, play every week, and try to get in the international squad. He has managed to do that.

“Hopefully he stays fit and continues to play well and gets to the Euros, which would be brilliant for him.

“To get there he has to play every week for us and do well, and to be fair, in the first 14-15 games he has done it every week for us.

“To have Craig in goals, he is a top goalkeeper and he gives you every chance of getting a result.”

Hearts defender Christophe Berra came through the youth ranks with Gordon and went on to play in front of him for Scotland before being reunited in the summer.

The 35-year-old said: “I don’t think Craig has got anything to prove, everyone knows how good a goalkeeper he is. Celtic know that, he could easily still be playing for Celtic now.

“Obviously they decided to go a different path. I don’t know what happened, I’m sure it was an amicable split.

“Craig enjoyed his time there, he’s at Hearts now, the club he started out with and had a lot of memories there before, and hopefully come the final whistle on Sunday he will have more memories.

“On regards to Craig as a keeper, I have been fortunate to play with him many a time and he has not changed, he’s a top-class keeper, he pulls off saves you don’t think are possible.

“Physically he is probably in the best condition he has ever been. He had one bad injury before and realised the work he had to put in, and he looks after himself really well.

“There’s no reason why Craig can’t go on for the next two, three, four years.”

Steven Naismith during the semi-final
Steven Naismith during the semi-final (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Gordon and Berra are not the only big-game players Hearts possess with another Scotland international, Steven Naismith, in their ranks and two Northern Ireland players in Michael Smith and Liam Boyce.

Neilson said: “Experience of these big games is very important: being able to handle the occasion and prepare for it properly.

“Not burning up too much nervous energy before you go into it is really important and also just the decision-making when you are out on the pitch.

“A lot of times you get maybe less experienced players making bad decisions when they are out there that can cost the team.”

BT Sport Monthly Pass

Join the home of live sport for just £25 per month. Get instant access to the BT Sport app, with no contract and no BT broadband required.