Craig Gordon: Hearts must focus on Arbroath - not Hibs
Craig Gordon has implored Hearts to focus on Gayfield and not Hampden as the all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup semi-final with Hibs looms on the horizon.
Victory in their second Championship match at Arbroath on Friday night would earn Hearts a fifth successive win after demolishing Dundee 6-2 in their opening league game.
They then meet Hibs in an eagerly-awaited cup tie at the national stadium next Saturday, evoking memories of the 2006 semi success against the same opponents.
Gordon played in that match and fondly recalls Hearts’ 4-0 triumph thanks principally to Paul Hartley’s hat-trick. However, he stressed anyone at Riccarton looking beyond Arbroath at this point would be making a huge error.
The goalkeeper is fully aware of the importance surrounding the Hibs tie but said continuing momentum at Gayfield is the priority for now.
“I think anything else would be a mistake. We have to focus on Arbroath because the league season is so short. It’s only 27 games and we don’t want to drop too many points,” he said.
“We have plenty time to recover after it leading into the semi-final next Saturday. Everybody has to be fully focused on this one and make sure we get a good result to keep the momentum going.
“The players involved on Friday will want to keep their place for the following week, so they have to perform well in this one.”
Hearts beat Inverness, Cowdenbeath and Raith Rovers in their Betfred Cup group before beginning the league campaign emphatically against Dundee.
A trip to Arbroath provides a notably different challenge. Gayfield on a Friday night with chilly winds blowing in from the North Sea may well test even the more experienced Hearts players.
“That’s the challenge and we have to accept it,” said Gordon, speaking at the relaunch of the McDonald’s Fun Football programme which will see the company provide over five million hours of free football to five-to-11-year-olds by 2022.
“We need to win games no matter where they are, who it’s against, what formation or tactics they use. We have to figure out ways to win all different types of matches.
“We have to show we can go away from home, perform well and win. We’ve done it at Tynecastle and now we need to do it on the road. That momentum we’ve built up has to be maintained.
“The semi is still a couple of weeks away. The meetings we’ve been having and the tactical stuff we’ve been working on are all for Arbroath. Only once that game is over will we turn our attentions to Hibs.”
That doesn’t mean Gordon can’t recollect the last all-Edinburgh cup semi. “Paul Hartley will be remembered forever for his hat-trick in that one. It was a great day,” he explained.
“My best memory would probably be turning up at Hampden and seeing the streets packed with Hearts fans. The stadium wasn’t open but with the amount of Hearts fans already there it was a challenge for the bus to get through and reach the changing rooms.
“That was a huge inspiration for us, seeing how up for the game the supporters were. It really transmitted to the players on the bus and there was a realisation that we had to win that game.
“The sheer desire within the support helped us get out of the blocks right from kick-off and we really deserved the win in the end.”
Hearts spent money freely back in 2006 but their budget is now more restricted after a controversial relegation to the Championship. Manager Robbie Neilson, who also played in that previous semi-final with Hibs, has recruited shrewdly over the summer.
Gordon was his first signing, followed by a number of experienced campaigners including midfielder Andy Halliday, winger Jordan Roberts, centre-back Mihai Popescu and full-back Stephen Kingsley.
“I think we are rebuilding in the right direction,” said Gordon. “We have started well, we’ve just scored six in our first league game and we still have a lot of quality to come back into the squad.
“The bench is going to be strong every week because we know quality players will be left out. We want to win the league.
“We aren’t making any secret of the fact we want promotion at the first attempt, but we have to go and earn that. We have to perform to the capabilities that have seen us all get international caps.”
Gordon is already doing just that. The Scotland internationalist still harbours ambitions of returning to national coach Steve Clarke’s squad at the age of 37. He left Celtic to rejoin formative club Hearts with that in mind back in June.
He has managed two clean sheets in four competitive outings so far – with one save in particular standing out from the rest. When the Inverness forward Daniel Mackay stopped to head a cross goalwards at Tynecastle two weeks ago, he found the opposition goalkeeper in typically defiant form.
“The ball came in and the Inverness striker dived in. I actually picked up the flight of the ball really quickly and managed to get a really solid connection on it with my left hand,” recalled Gordon.
“That knocked it up in the air and I was quick enough to get up to get it second time. It was a good one and one I enjoyed at the time. It was important because it was only a few minutes into the first game and there was a bit of pressure on that.
“We’ve strung a few results together since then. The momentum has been good and we want to keep that going now.”
Hearts and Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon was relaunching McDonald’s Fun Football programme, which offers fun, free and safe football sessions for children age 5-11. Find your nearest Fun Football Centre and to sign up for a session at: www.mcdonalds.co.uk/funfootball.