Exclusive: Craig Gordon on association with Hibees, keeping Hearts beating and preserving an excellent record against Hibs
Things can become pretty frenetic during Edinburgh derby week when you’re a local lad who is also captain of Hearts. When two derbies back-to-back lie in wait, the tension reaches fever pitch.
Craig Gordon doesn’t really do flustered and is therefore the ideal guy to put bang in the middle of such a scenario. He saunters leisurely along the corridor at Riccarton, cracking a few jokes before speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
Even at 39, after winning trebles, player of the year awards and dozens of Scotland caps, this is quite a momentous week in Gordon’s career. A league meeting with his club’s greatest rivals precedes a Scottish Cup semi-final against the same opponents in what is a mouthwatering few days.
The goalkeeper’s build-up is as controlled as possible. “It’s busy for ticket requests, I can tell you that,” he says. “It’s enjoyable. My family are all Hearts fans wanting to come to the game and support us. They are there most weeks but these are the big games that mean a lot to everybody, including me.”
For all his relaxed and languid mannerisms, Gordon’s Hibs mates are sensible enough not to poke the chilled-out bear too much. “There aren't that many. I don’t associate myself with too many Hibees,” he laughs.
“There are a few but everything is usually kept low-key. I won’t gloat too much if they don’t. Over the years that respect has grown and we don’t go in too deep when either one of us is hurting. Hopefully that’s not us over the next couple of weeks. We are focused on winning.”
Hurt against Hibs is in fact a rare experience. Three times Gordon has encountered the Leith neighbours since rejoining Hearts in summer 2020, knocking them out of a Scottish Cup semi-final before this season’s two goalless league affairs.
His first spell at Tynecastle brought eight wins, four draws and only four defeats for the Scotland goalkeeper against the Easter Road club. In fact, playing with Sunderland and Celtic for much of the intervening period means he has conceded only one goal in an Edinburgh derby since Boxing Day 2006.
“You’ve always got to be wary. They’re not a bad team,” he points out. “They have changed their style recently under Shaun Maloney, an ex-team-mate of mine. He is trying to play slightly differently and at times it has been successful.
“Sometimes when you change it will click and sometimes it won’t. I do think Hibs are an improving team so we will have to play to our best capabilities to try and win on Saturday.
“We aren’t really thinking about the second game, it’s the one right in front of us. We try to win that game then, when that’s done, we try to win the next one. That’s the only way to look at it as far as I’m concerned.
“We’ve had a couple of draws against Hibs so far this season and we want to win this time. We’re getting close to a points total that will make us uncatchable in third place. The aim is to get there as quickly as possible.”
Would preventing Hibs reaching the Premiership’s top six in the final round of pre-split matches be an extra motivation for Hearts? If it is, Gordon is too wise to admit so. “I haven’t really looked into that. I mean, could Hibs lose and still get into the top six? Is that a possible permutation? Potentially.
“It’s not something we’re going to think about. We are out to try and win the game. If that’s a possible scenario then that’s for them to contend with. We want the points to get third place sewn up.
“One way or another, we won’t get through the next two games without a winner. Somebody will need to score at some point. Both games have been entertaining with a few chances created. We feel we have players capable of scoring.”
His own form is impeccable. Jaws are still being picked off the floor by people who witnessed his acrobatic double save at Ross County last weekend. Gordon is an intimidating barrier to any forward and knows exactly the mentality required to qualify for Europe and win the Scottish Cup with Hearts.
He did both back in the good days of ‘06. “It’s good to keep my own momentum going. I feel I’ve been in good shape and in good form for most of the season. It isn’t always like that so you need to enjoy it when it is.
“I’m very happy with the way things have gone personally but it’s about the team getting over the line and finishing third, then a huge semi-final to look forward to.
“On the whole, the season has gone well for Hearts as a club. The players now know this is the run-in, all the hard work until now has put us in this position. We want to finish the season with a few good performances.”
So, although Hibs may need the points to aid their league position, Hearts crave them just as badly. “I never think motivation would an issue against Hibs for either set of players. Whatever the scenario, it’s a Hearts-Hibs game and we want to win,” says Gordon. The jokes are well and truly finished now, in case you wondered.
“I came back to Hearts saying I wanted to help the team back into the Premiership and challenging for Europe. It’s been a good turnaround but we aren’t finished. I’m excited being part of this journey but we don’t look back or rest on what we’ve got. We continually try to improve.”