Craig Gordon heroics not enough as Scotland goalkeeper is left exposed too often against Ukraine
The Hearts goalkeeper pulled off the kind of world-class saves those of a maroon persuasion have become accustomed to, but was left exposed too many times and sloppy defending ultimately gifted Ukraine their passage to the play-off final in Cardiff on Sunday.
Gordon will be 43 when the 2026 World Cup finals are held in Canada, Mexico and the United States. His chance to achieve an outstanding career ambition now looks to be over, but he can take personal pride in his own performance.
Lanky Read Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was wonderfully likened to a spider after his match-winning performance in the Champions League final against Liverpool because he seemed to be armed with eight limbs, one of them always in the right place to keep the ball out of the night.
It’s a description that often fits with Gordon performances. Three times he was called on to keep Scotland alive in the first half but he couldn’t keep up the one-man barricade all night.
The first on eight minutes came when former Hearts defender Aaron Hickey was caught on his heels at right wing-back. That allowed Viktor Tsygankov to dash in front and shoot first-time from the edge of the box. Gordon, winning his 67th cap, stretched to help it over the top with the tips of his fingers.
On 16 minutes the veteran was at it again. This time it was his upper right arm that denied Andriy Yarmolenko from point-blank range. It was an incredible block, the 39-year-old demonstrating lightening reflexes to take the sting out of the shot. The ball continued on its path towards the goal, but Gordon reacted immediately to the stop it from bobbling across the line.
Just three minutes later he had to come sharply off his line to make a smothering stop, bailing out Scott McTominay after the Manchester United midfielder, deployed at right centre-back, had dribbled out of defence and lost possession.
But there are only so many times a goalkeeper can be called upon to pull his team out of the mire.
Gordon could do little about the Ukrainian goals either side of half time, his defence firstly failing to deal with a simple long ball over the top which invited Yarmolenko to race in behind, control beautifully with his first touch and deftly lob the exposed Scotland keeper with his second.
Hickey and McTominay were then out-jumped at the back post by Roman Yaremchuk, who headed home the second Ukraine goal just three minutes into the second half, Gordon left with no chance.
He made another routine stop low to his left before Scotland pulled themselves off the canvass in a bid to make a game of it. But the keeper was still required when Scotland eventually managed to gain the ascendency, with Ukraine’s slick passing slicing the home defence apart at will on the counter attack.
Gordon used his shins to prevent Viktor Tsygankov from giving Ukraine a third after he twisted past the flat-footed Hanley.
When Callum McGregor pulled one back and Scotland were chucking men forward in search of a desperate equaliser, the goalkeeper was left one-on-one time and time again and the third goal on the break from Artem Dovbyk in injury time was the coup de grâce.
The keeper sunk to his knees knowing it was all over.
“It’s never nice when it ends and it’s ended this way far too many times for me personally,” Gordon told Sky Sports. “We’ve got close on so many occasions and to come up short again this time. We didn’t play our best. We can’t hide behind that. We didn’t perform as we wanted to.”
He’s right about the team performance. As an individual, though, Gordon could not be faulted.