Craig's out to save the day again
LOOKING back over an engrossing league tussle, it can be easy to pick out defining moments in a team's season.
The significance of these occasions, however, may only become apparent once the dust has settled on the campaign in question.
Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon has already proved himself a formidable last line of defence for the Jambos this term with a number of top-class stops to help the Gorgie outfit boast one of the meanest rearguards in the SPL - leaders Celtic are the only ones with a better record with ten goals conceded.
The current campaign may be barely into its second quarter but the 22-year-old has already logged one particular save into his "best of" portfolio. Kilmarnock, Hibs, Dundee United and Aberdeen had already been put to the sword when Terry Butcher brought his Motherwell side to Gorgie towards the end of August.
The visit of the Steelmen was supposed to signify another straightforward victory for the high-flying Jambos but the Fir Parkers failed to read the script and pushed their hosts to the very last kick of the ball.
Trailing 2-1 as the game entered its dying seconds, David Clarkson unleashed a ferocious shot which seemed destined for the top corner of the net until the Scotland No.1 choice keeper somehow managed to leap full-length to his left to keep his side's narrow advantage intact.
The win kept Hearts at the top of the table and denied the sceptics the chance to gloat at the Tynecastle bubble bursting.
The Gorgie outfit made the most of their close shave to stretch their unbeaten opening to 12 matches and are still reaping the benefits of that impressive beginning, Graham Rix's side tucked in behind table-topping Celtic just two points off the pace.
It could all have been so different, of course, had Gordon not produced one of the contenders for save of the season and he's hoping that come May 7 next year, he'll be able to look back on the incident with even more satisfaction. "It was a good save from David Clarkson and it was good to keep the 100 per cent record going as we were top of the league at that stage," he said.
"It was important at that time in the match but hopefully I can look back at the end of the season and its significance will have grown.
"That could have been the moment a lot of people were waiting for our bubble to burst but it wasn't to be."
As he prepares to line up between the posts against Motherwell at Fir Park tomorrow afternoon, the goalkeeper knows Hearts can ill afford to start the way they did against Aberdeen on Sunday.
The Dons threatened to blow the Jambos away in the opening period, although a much-improved second-half performance rescued a point for Rix in his first game at the helm and could well have brought an even greater reward.
"Motherwell are a pretty decent side and did well against us at Tynecastle earlier this season. We didn't perform well that day and managed to scrape a 2-1 victory," he said.
"We face another important test tomorrow after Pittodrie and, hopefully, we can get the win which will keep us on the coat-tails of Celtic.
"We have got to earn the right to play and fight and battle for every ball. That's what Aberdeen did against us in the first half last Sunday.
"In the second half we were hungrier, went about things in a better manner and imposed ourselves on the game.
"That is what we have to do at Fir Park from the kick-off tomorrow. That is the key for us. We have been very good at doing that at home this season and if we can carry that into our away from it should hold us in good stead."
Fir Park hasn't been the happiest of hunting grounds for the Tynecastle side recently - they lost 2-0 in February the last time the met in Lanarkshire.
"I saved a Jim Hamilton penalty that day and a lot of good that did us, " said Gordon. "Seriously, though, they are always hard to beat on their own patch. They always give teams very hard games at Fir Park and managed to take a point off Celtic in the first game of the season there.
"It's a unique pitch at Fir Park with its slope and you can find yourselves up against it if you don't come out the blocks firing on all cylinders. We will have to match their spirit and application and then take things from there.
"That slope going across the park will be something of an experience for the foreign lads - they won't be used to playing with one leg shorter than the other!"
With the hype which engulfed Rix's preparations for his baptism as Hearts boss beginning to subside, the players are hoping to be able to go about their business in a more normal atmosphere this week as they set about keeping the pressure on Gordon Strachan's in-form Hoops.
"The boss's first game is now out of the way and it's vitally important that we get back to normal," said Gordon.
"All the publicity and everything else which came our way was just something we had to deal with and hopefully it will be a bit quieter going into tomorrow's match.
"Different types of pressure are heaped on you when you're at the top of the league and trying to stay there.
"It's up to us to deal with that and ensure we get the three points against Motherwell.
"We have dropped two points off the top of the table but we're confident we can get back up there. We have two home games coming up and Celtic have to come to us over the Christmas and New Year period.
"We have a winnable group of games coming up and, if we have any aspirations of staying up there, we have to go to difficult places like Fir Park and take the three points."
With third place Hibs entertaining fourth-placed Rangers at Easter Road on Sunday, victory tomorrow for Hearts would do the Jambos a power of good, as the Scotland No.1 acknowledged.
"If we can do that, then a little bit more pressure will be put on both Hibs and Rangers for their game," he said. "No matter how that game goes, though, we have to concentrate first and foremost on our own performance.
"It is up to us to do our job properly, which will then enable us to make ground on somebody."
Taken from the Scotsman