With time ticking into the 22nd minute, the visitors had already passed up a few early, excellent opportunities to ease the nerves and set up a comfortable evening from the outset in this must-win encounter on the road to Qatar 2022. Of course, Scotland being Scotland, they didn’t grasp the offer of early domination and a stark reminder of international football’s perilousness was soon granted.
Moldovan captain Artur Ioniță rose high and powered a header down towards goal, bringing out a reactionary stop from the Tynecastle No.1. On the replays it looked a routine stop for someone of his quality, but it was one of those saves where a goalkeeper would explain the act was a lot tougher than it looked. Ionita attacked the ball with gusto and it flashed back up off the slick surface at a rate of knots, allowing Gordon just a fraction of a second to use his patented reflexes to push it up and over with both hands.
That kept proceedings at 0-0, enabling Rangers full-back Nathan Patterson to open the scoring with a rifled effort on 38 minutes. When Che Adams made it 2-0 midway through the second half, horrible memories of a stumble similar to Georgia in 2007 (and 2015) were briefly banished and it was time to look forward to the play-offs and the potential advancement to a first World Cup finals since France ‘98.
But it wasn’t over yet. Heart palpitations were felt across the country when – again, Scotland being Scotland – a VAR check rightfully awarded a penalty to Moldova after a handball by Patterson.
Gordon once again came up trumps, as he does time after time after time. With just under ten minutes remaining, he managed to block the resulting spot-kick with a dive to his right and watched on while Kieran Tierney preserved the clean sheet with an incredible goal-saving tackle.
Of course, anyone who has watched Gordon across the last 16 months (or indeed, the last 18 years) wouldn’t be surprised by this double contribution. Even though he’ll turn 39 next month, the handsome colossus with elastic limbs appears to be getting better, not worse, in the supposed twilight years of his career.
The match in Chișinău represented the boyhood Jambo’s 63rd appearance for his country – 32 of those while a Hearts player. It means, subject to last-minute injury, Covid-19 intervention or Steve Clarke losing his marbles, Gordon will become Hearts’ most capped ever international when Denmark visit Hampden Park on Monday evening.
There are still seeding places up for grabs in the final group qualifier. At this stage, a home semi-final against an unseeded opponent isn’t guaranteed with a result against the Danes, though it is highly likely to result in one.
Denmark themselves will have a certain degree of motivation despite already booking their trip to the Middle East as they seek to finish Group F with a perfect ten wins from ten matches. Would you be at all surprised if the opposing custodian has something to say about that?