Craig Gordon says he is leaving Hearts in capable hands
Joining the Scotland squad for three vital World Cup qualifiers, Craig Gordon is relaxed about leaving Hearts in the capable hands of his deputy.
Ross Stewart, the goalkeeper on loan from Livingston until the end of the season, will step in against Brora Rangers tomorrow and Queen of the South on Saturday.
He received a ringing endorsement from the departing Gordon following the weekend’s goalless draw at Arbroath. Hearts are unbeaten in nine league games and sit 16 points clear at the top of the Championship, but attention now turns to a potentially tricky Scottish Cup second-round tie in the Highlands.
Stewart made two League Cup appearances for the Edinburgh club whilst Gordon was on international duty last autumn. Management rate him highly and hope to sign him permanently this summer.
Gordon revealed that the 25-year-old is partly responsible for his own consistent form since returning to Tynecastle Park.
“Competition keeps me on my toes and you get that with Ross,” said Gordon. “He's going to get a couple of games now and he's worked ever so hard throughout the season. He is one of the hardest trainers and he makes sure the standards are kept really high.
“That's a hard thing to do when you aren't playing many games. He's been brilliant for the squad and for me personally. It rubs off on you. There are no easy days when you've got somebody working as hard as that.
“We try to push each other on and we have a great relationship. We're always competing, trying to be on the winning team or beat each other in the little competitions between the goalies.
“I love training with him. Ross has been excellent and he deserves his chance coming up in the next couple of games.”
Stewart might be considered to be in a pressure-free position Gordon’s back-up, but the onus is on him to keep out the Highland League champions tomorrow night to preserve Hearts’ Scottish Cup place.
“It's not just him, it's everybody,” said Gordon. “We want to progress as far as we can and it will take the whole squad to do that. The games will come thick and fast and we want to progress.
“We know it's a tricky one to start with. There will be a few international guys out but the players who do go there are capable of getting the win to get us through to the next round.”
Stewart’s Livingston contract expires this summer and Hearts manager Robbie Neilson told the Evening News last month about his plan to sign the keeper.
“I will sit down with Joe Savage [Hearts’ sporting director] and Paul Gallacher [goalkeeping coach] and we will make a decision about what we do with him,” said Neilson. “I like him as a boy, he is a good age with good experience, so it's something we will potentially do.”
Saturday’s match was a turgid affair for much of the afternoon. The only positive for Hearts was extended their advantage at the top.
“I almost feel sorry for you guys having to write about that. I don't know how you make that sound exciting,” admitted Gordon. “I didn't have a save or even a dive in the game. We just couldn't score and it wasn't a great game.”