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3 of 019 ----- L SPL H

Gordon to resume Mother of all battles


CRAIG GORDON’S mind is preoccupied. "I’m trying to get our goalkeeping coach to make me the coffee he owes me for beating him at the crossbar challenge," says the goalkeeper.

Come tomorrow, he’ll have a lot more than that to contend with.

If, as is likely, Hearts miss the plane for Europe, they will have much reason to curse this weekend’s opponents Motherwell, a side who have beaten the Edinburgh club on each of the four occasions they have met this season.

Gordon has seen eight balls fizz past him into the net from boots attached to claret and amber socks this term, and to put it bluntly he’s had a gutful. He stops short of conceding a wish for revenge when Terry Butcher brings his team to Tynecastle, but you get the general idea.

Two 2-0 defeats at Fir Park have been supplemented by Motherwell’s 1-0 win in the Capital in November, and the added discomfort of February’s CIS Cup semi-final loss will merely affirm the determination of Gordon and his colleagues to redress the balance.

"I’ve had quite a few goals flying past me from them this season so I ought to know where their danger lies," says Gordon. "Scott McDonald is probably their main threat this season and Jim Hamilton has been up beside him recently.

"He’s a big guy and a handful for any defence. Given the chance he also possesses a good finish so it’s a good combination they have with the big guy-wee guy partnership. The smaller one, McDonald, can be nipping around defenders’ feet and we’ll have to be aware of that.

"You could say we’re due them one so we’ll be going into the game looking for three points. We’re at home and then all we can do is hope other results go our way over the weekend."

With that comment Gordon is alluding to Hearts’ evident struggle to retain European involvement at Tynecastle for the third successive year, and it’s little wonder he is hankering after the opportunity to continually test himself against the Continent’s cream.

In what was only his seventh appearance for Hearts, Gordon kept at bay the tumultuous attacking threat of the fancied French side Bordeaux as Craig Levein masterminded one of the greatest results in the club’s history in the Stade Lescure 18 months ago.

Nights like that are character-building, not to mention what they can do for your career, so the 22-year-old should be forgiven for hanging on to European ambitions. "Of course there’s still an element of hope," he insists.

"It’s a difficult situation for us but we obviously have to be professional enough to go and do our own jobs. That means getting three points on the board and showing the others that they have to keep their performances up till the end of the season.

"Maybe there’s not all that much hope left now, but while that glimmer of light is still there we will keep playing away as normal and see what happens."

Which raises another issue. Exactly how do you "play away as normal" against a team who have usurped you four times inside nine months? Gordon isn’t entirely sure of the answer.

"I can’t really put my finger on why we’ve struggled against them this season," he says, his face etched with bewilderment. "They are a team who like to get right in your face. That’s the only thing I can think of that could explain why our meetings with them have been so costly for us.

"They’re a decent side but they’re a side who have been in the middle of the table all season. No disrespect to Motherwell but maybe it’s their style of play that we’ve found difficult to cope with.

"I think there are two ways for us to deal with them. One is you try and play them at your own game, but the problem with that is they are very good at what they do and probably one of the best in the league at playing in that manner.

"The other option is to try and be a bit more relaxed, keep the ball and try to absorb the pressure.

"That’s also difficult to carry out when they are harassing you so there is a balance to be struck between upsetting them and trying to play our own brand of football at the same time.

"The good thing is we know the way they’ll play. They came to Tynecastle earlier in the season and won. They sat in very well that day so I think it’ll be difficult to break them down."

If Gordon talks as intelligently to his defenders as he does to journalists then there should be little problem in repelling McDonald, pictured left, Hamilton and the rest.

John Robertson gathers his players on a weekly basis to analyse the video evidence of their last outing, and Gordon’s opinions on the team’s display are eagerly sought and highly valued.

"We’ve had a team meeting to discuss how we played against Hibs and how we will need to play against Motherwell.

"We will go over the shape of our team before the match so that we are well prepared to combat what will be thrown at us tomorrow."

If Gordon found the eight Motherwell goals he has conceded this term insulting, then it shouldn’t be difficult to fathom his thoughts on his recent relegation from Scotland No.1 to Future Team keeper.

He was hailed as our international goalkeeper for years to come by Berti Vogts, then promptly binned by new national coach Walter Smith in favour of Rab Douglas.

Still, he did get to play in the San Siro, a memory to forever cherish, and with Douglas currently injured it is Gordon who looks most the most likely replacement should the Celtic goalkeeper fail to recover before Scotland’s World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Belarus in June.

"I went across to Austria with the Future Team and did okay there so if I can keep my performances up then Rab will know the pressure is on him to keep the jersey," says Gordon.

"It’s my job to put doubt in the manager’s mind. Ultimately it’s not for me to decide because Walter will call the shots on that but all I can do is give him something to think about."

First he has plenty of his own thinking to do on how to stop Motherwell.

Taken from the Scotsman

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