Craig Gordon talks Hearts rediscovering fighting spirit and how supporters helped beat Hibs at Hampden
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Robbie Neilson’s side had to make an unprecedented five enforced substitutions due to injury, while Hearts also saw their 1-0 half-time lead erased within seconds of the game restarting as former Jambo Liam Smith netted the goal of his career with a swerving stunner from 25 yards before Nicky Clark soon converted from the penalty spot.
Hot off the heels of their worst run of the campaign, where they won just two games in seven and suffered consecutive league defeats to the two bottom Premiership clubs, it could so easily have ended badly for the visitors. Instead, they continued scrapping and won themselves a share of the spoils when Craig Halkett headed home a late equaliser.
Fighting spirit was a component fans felt the squad lacked a little during the aforementioned downturn in results and it also became a topic of conversation in the dressing room, according to captain Craig Gordon. Battling for each other helped erase the deficit against United and its rediscovery has come at the perfect time ahead of the biggest match of the season thus far.
“It has been a decent run, the last three games. I feel as if we have been going along quite well, playing some better football again,” said Gordon ahead of the Scottish Cup quarter-final clash with St Mirren in Edinburgh.
“The first 10-15 minutes [against United], I thought we were excellent. Gary [Mackay-Steven] gets his injury and things started to slow down from there. By the time we got to half-time we had players playing in different positions and trying to fill holes within the team.
“We hadn’t really managed to get organised by the start of the second half and we found ourselves 2-1 behind. So we showed great character to get back from there.
“There was great spirit and togetherness. We had been talking about that, how we needed to get back to that, back to helping each other out in different circumstances. It wasn’t a good performance but it was a fighting performance and we gave ourselves a chance to take something from the game.”
Of course, any pre-match press conference for a Hearts cup fixture in 2022 has to include a question surrounding a match which everyone involved with the club would rather forget.
Though some of the personnel remain, mentally and spiritually it’s very much a changed team from the one which suffered one of the worst results in Hearts’ victory with a 2-1 exit to Highland League side Brora Rangers.
Even though they’ve safely made it past two rounds in this year’s competition, the embarrassment continues to follow like a dark cloud. Gordon, who could only watch on helplessly that night while away with Scotland, knows only success at Hampden will help erase the memory.
“I watched it on Hearts TV. I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. I knew it would be a difficult game going up there, but it was just a culmination of so many things that led to us going out that night,” he said.
“It wasn’t nice to be a part of, even if I was away on international duty. We lost a couple of games around that period, so we really had to steady the ship, and credit to everybody for doing that, but that was not a nice night to be involved in, even though I was hundreds of miles away it was really difficult to deal with.
“We’ve come a long way since then as a group, as a team and as a club and things are looking a lot more positive now, so we can leave that one behind us, but we want to bounce back from that by getting to Hampden this year.”
Gordon already has one Scottish Cup winners’ medal as a Hearts player. A key member of the 2005/06 team, he largely played the role of spectator as his boyhood heroes thumped Hibs 4-0 in an all-Edinburgh semi before producing his own heroics to help defeat Gretna on penalties in the final.
Hibs are a possible opponent in the next round if Hearts advance. Shaun Maloney’s men travel to Motherwell early on Sunday afternoon looking to make up for their own Scottish Cup heartache after losing to St Johnstone in last year’s final.
If such a scenario occurs once again, Gordon knows the maroon half of Edinburgh will act as they did 16 years ago and do everything they can to spur the team on to victory.
“The big memory from that game was before the game, rather than the game itself,” said Gordon, looking back to when he was a fresh-faced 23-year-old. “The Hearts fans in the streets when the bus was trying to get into Hampden, there was so many of them through there that early and that’s probably the one thing that sticks in my mind, just how good the support was.
“I didn’t feel there was any way we were going to lose that day. Everybody was so together to go out and make sure we got to a final, especially against Hibs, there was no bigger incentive.
“It was a fantastic performance, that was egged on by the crowd that turned up so early to give us an incredible backing.
“That just shows the strength of support that we have here. If we can be a winning team that gets to semi-finals and finals, then the fans will come out and back us.”