Hearts in Spain: Zander Clark talks Craig Gordon's determination, staying patient and finally getting some minutes

It’s one thing to sit behind the best goalkeeper in the country in your club’s pecking order. That’s a tough gig.

It’s quite another thing entirely to sit behind one who wants to play every single minute of every single game, even though at the age of 39 and fast approaching 40 it would perhaps make sense to take a breather every now and then.

That’s the position Zander Clark finds himself in as the back-up goalkeeper to Craig Gordon at Tynecastle. However, he’s not looking for any sympathy on the matter. After all, he knew exactly what he was getting into when he agreed to join Hearts in early September following his decision to leave St Johnstone in the summer after 14 years of service.

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"I've been with him in Scotland camps and I know the work rate and desire that he's got to keep training and being involved in every game,” said Clark. “It's all credit to him and with me being younger – well, I say younger but I'm 30 – I can look to that and see what it takes to still be playing at the top level at that age.

Zander Clark in action during Hearts' 4-0 friendly defeat to Blackburn Rovers on Friday afternoon. Picture: Contributed

"There's Allan McGregor in the league as well and you look at the likes of Gianluigi Buffon. If you look after your body then your body will look after you. If you do the right things and recover well, put everything you've got into training, you know you can prolong your career for five, six years more than outfield players can.

"It's something younger ones can learn from. It's great for myself and Cheesy (Ross Stewart) and big Stonesy (Harry Stone) that we can learn from him. He's played at the highest level for a large part of his career. You can always learn from goalkeepers. When I come away here I become the more experienced one. So it's a sort of shift in momentum."

Clark almost wasn’t the senior goalkeeper on Hearts’ winter training excursion to the Costa del Sol. Craig Gordon admitted earlier in the week that he wanted to travel with the rest of the squad but was told by head coach Robbie Neilson to stay at home after his two-week break was interrupted by representing Scotland on international duty.

“Big Craigy, I think that's the first time he's had a couple of weeks off since '06 or something,” joked Clark. “That's who he is. He always wants to be involved. That's the kind of character he is. Obviously it's good for him in terms of getting some rest, being fresh and then going again. And it's good for myself to get some game time.”

Hearts played Blackburn Rovers at the picturesque Marbella Football Center. Picture: Contributed

After featuring against Swansea City in the closed-door game at Tynecastle in midweek, his 45 minutes in the 4-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers in Marbella was just his second match since helping St Johnstone to avoid relegation to the cinch Championship at the conclusion of last season.

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He’d rather not have three goals knocked past him, to add to the two on Tuesday, but it’s all about getting match sharpness again so if Gordon is forced to take a breather once more in the near future he’ll be ready to come in and contribute.

"They were great finishes. They took them both so early. With the first one I dunno how early he's taken it. I'm still on the move and can't react to it. It's a good finish. The second one is incredible with how he's managed to pluck it out of the sky with the first-time volley,” said Clark as he recounted how Blackburn put themselves into an early 2-0 lead in the friendly encounter.

"With these exercises, obviously it's not nice to concede goals in them, but it's about getting minutes. Inverness in the play-off for St Johnstone would've been the last game I played. So I'm not quite match sharp in terms of that but I'm feeling quite good in terms of fitness.

Zander Clark in training for Hearts at their winter training camp in the Costa del Sol. Picture: Contributed
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"As a goalkeeper you know that only one person can play. The big man is at the top of his game so it's going to be a challenge to try and break into the team. You can't get frustrated in that respect.

“You just have to hope the big man does well because it's a team game at the end of the day. You just need to make sure you're ready if you're called upon. That's why it's good to come away on these trips for myself to get minutes in the tank.”

The trip to Spain also provides Clark the opportunity to connect with his team-mates off the field. He missed pre-season as he mulled over his decision about where next to play his football following the exit from McDiarmid Park. It's also good to get out into the sun, even if, as he admits, factor 50 has to be applied daily the pale-skinned Scot.

"We've just had two weeks off so it's good to get everyone together,” he said. “We've spent every day together so it's a good bit of team bonding. Obviously it's good to be in the sunshine as well. It's good to see it back out today. I thought we'd brought the Scottish weather with us after Thursday.

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"We've had time to recharge, now we come away with each other and get to work on things on the training ground and make sure everyone is ready for the Kilmarnock game.”

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