Hearts reaction: Robbie Neilson makes huge Craig Gordon claim and speaks on Hibs boss’ coaching

It was a huge moment and one that seemed so familiar. With 54 minutes gone, the 39-year-old pulled off a point-blank save, just as he had done in the 2020 semi-final against the same opponents.

This time it was Ryan Porteous who powered a downward header goalwards. It looked certain he would level the scoreline before Gordon dived down to his right de el to deny him and allow Robbie Neilson’s team to see out the win, also ensuring themselves European football next season until at least Christmas.

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They had taken the lead by netting twice, first through Ellis Simms, before Stephen Kingsley curled a set piece beyond Matt Macey. But Gordon’s save, followed by the red card for Joe Newell 10 minutes later, gave Hearts space to breathe as they absorbed injuries to Craig Halkett and Kingsley.

Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon turns Ryan Porteous’ header on to the post.

“He’s been outstanding,” said Neilson. “I’d be amazed if he’s not the Football Writers’ Player of the Year and PFA Player of the Year because he’s done it every single week. There’s been guys for the Old Firm and other teams who have done it sporadically through the season but every single week he’s producing world-class saves.

“It allows us to be more expansive because if someone goes through then the majority of times Craig Gordon will save it. It’s going to take something special to get by him.”

Ranking him alongside the likes of Andy Goram and Jim Leighton, Neilson insists the current Scotland No 1 is getting better and better.

“I played with him 20 years ago and he’s matured massively,” Neilson continued. “He takes sessions with the players, he’s a quiet guy but he leads by example. Someone said it was his 15th semi-final? So, he’s got the T-shirt and was talking to the players last night about what it’s like to get the bus in with the fans, what to do in the tunnel, the dressing-room and when we come out, what happens if we lose or score a goal and that’s priceless for the younger ones.

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson embraces Gordon at full time.

“He shows what belief and looking after yourself can do. He’s continued to play at the highest level.”

The outcome – Hearts’ second derby win in successive weeks – was also a vindication of the club’s decision to stick with Neilson after last season’s Brora Rangers embarrassment in the same competition, when a section of the support was protesting and calling for him to be sacked . However, the manager’s philosophy remains.

“That’s part and parcel when you are at a big football club. If we got beat today, it’s a different story and you are asking different questions. The way football is now you are either, for want of a better term, sugar or shit “That’s it. You are either really good or really bad. Like Shaun, he’s a really good coach. I’ve seen him coach, and he has coached at the highest levels and if he wins this game it’s a different story. It’s the culture now. You buy a T-shirt, wear it twice and get rid of it and it’s the same with managers.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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