“That’s the best feeling any Hearts fan can have” – Craig Gordon on leading his side out at a full Tynecastle
It was an emotional return for fans to Tynecastle, as well as an emotional day for Hearts captain Craig Gordon. Jamie McIntosh reports.
The draw between Hearts and Aberdeen sees both move on to seven points, alongside Hibs at the top of the cinch Premiership.
Having been in front in the game, Hearts may have been disappointed not to take all three points, but seven points out of a possible nine is a solid return from their first three games back in the top-flight of Scottish football.
Craig Gordon has had busier afternoons in the Hearts goal, but produced a strong save to deny Christian Ramirez in the first half and the Hearts skipper said they should be satisfied with their start to the season.
“We still had confidence coming into the season that we could pick up points. We’re still undefeated, so that probably is ahead of where everybody thought we’d be at this stage.
“We can take the positives from that. We’d like to have won today and I think it was all there for us to go get three points, which would’ve made it a magnificent start, but we’ve got to be satisfied with what we’ve picked up so far. It’s going to be a long season, so we’ll take the seven points and move on to the next week.”
It’s fair to say that the Hearts fans expected three points yesterday and at times, they can forget the fact their side has just won promotion back to the Premiership, meaning a season to consolidate, before pushing for top four may be required.
Gordon explained that’s what the club is building towards but said it will take time.
‘We’re rebuilding towards that. It won’t happen overnight, we’ll keep trying to improve, we’ve got a lot of fight in the squad. I think you could see that today in what was an intense game. High pace, high energy, not always the best quality we’d have liked, but the fight was there and if the fans see that we’re willing to fight as much as that for each other, we’ll go on and have a successful season.”
17,000 fans were inside Tynecastle for the match and after playing in an empty stadium throughout their Championship campaign, Gordon was understandably delighted to see Tynecastle back to its raucous best.
“Yeah it was brilliant. They fans have been missed. That atmosphere is special here. Everyone that plays in Scotland mentions Tynecastle for atmosphere, because the pitch is so close to the stands.
“I think it took maybe 10 or 15 minutes to adjust, a few nerves and mistakes early on playing in front of so many fans again. It was great to get everybody back in, but hopefully the red zones disappear, and we can continue getting back to normal now.”
During the 2019/20 season with Hearts sitting bottom of the league, Tynecastle was a toxic place for home players to play and Gordon explains it’s important that the players can keep the fans onside throughout the season.
“We need to keep the fans with us now. If we put in that effort and work for each other, not everything came off for us today, but we didn’t lose the game which is important.
“We want to be getting the points at home especially, so we’ll take the positives and try improve for the next one. It’s Dundee United next week. If we can go win that, then we’re in a great position going into the international break.”
Stephen Kingsley and Armand Gnanduillet were absent from the matchday squad on Sunday, which left Hearts with a bench largely made up of youngsters.
Ben Woodburn’s season-long loan from Liverpool has now been confirmed and Cameron Devlin looks to be signing on at Tynecastle imminently. With Gnanduillet and Kingsley to come back in, Hearts should be back to full strength for their trip to Tannadice next Saturday.
Robbie Neilson explained after the match that a lot of the youngsters that were on the bench against Aberdeen will be going out on loan, but until Hearts can get more bodies in the door, they can’t let them depart.
Summer signing Beni Baningime impressed again in midfield and Gordon admitted that Hearts will need more signings if they want to keep improving.
“We’ve strengthened in a few areas. If we can continue to do that and keep improving, it’ll be beneficial for everybody. We were a bit light today, if we can get another couple of bodies in the door, that’ll help us get up the top end of that league and challenge.”
Scotland manager Steve Clarke is expected to announce his Scotland squad today [Tuesday] and the Hearts skipper is looking to become Scotland’s first choice goalkeeper for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers.
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it,” Gordon said.
“First of all, hopefully get selected and go along and train well. They’re massive games coming up. Three games in a week, it’s a lot of points to play for in a short space of time, so we need to have a good camp and get the points on the board if we want to make it to the World Cup.
“I’m always confident to go. It’s a great camp to go into and a great squad to be a part of. The training is great quality and really intense. There are some really good players, so it was great to be part of that environment for the Euros. I’m looking forward to hopefully going back and trying my best in training and we’ll see where that takes me.”
John Souttar has impressed since returning from injury and the Hearts captain believes if he can stay injury free, his call up isn’t far away.
“He’s doing well. He’s been playing games consistently since the back end of last season and into this one now, so he’s stayed fit for quite a while. It’s about him playing games and he’s getting close. He’s been one of our best players this season, he just needs to keep that level of performance up and then it won’t be too much longer until everybody else is taking notice.”
On a personal level, yesterday was a special day for Gordon, who led out his boyhood club on the return of full crowds to Tynecastle.
“It was huge,” said Gordon.
“I tried not to think about it too much, because if I thought about that then it would have been too much for me.
“I just had to focus on what I had to do in the game. Definitely in the days leading up to the game, knowing I was going to do that was a great feeling.
“I had to shut that out while it was happening, because that’s the best feeling any Hearts fan can have. To go out in that atmosphere and lead the team out was special.
“I had a lot of family here to witness that. I’ve been back at the club for a while now, but that was the first time with the fans at Tynecastle. Hearing that Hearts song being sung, it’s so special to everyone in my family. It was a great occasion for me, but it was just a pity we didn’t get the three points to go with it.”
Finally, Hearts fans performed an emotional ‘twirly’ with their scarves in memory of former Hearts skipper, who passed away of MND last October.
Zaliukas will be most fondly remembered for leading Hearts to Scottish Cup glory in 2012, beating Hibs 5-1 in the final. Gordon said he was “pleased” the fans paid tribute to the former skipper.
“Yes, I knew that was happening before the game, we saw the social media before the game. It was a fantastic tribute, Aberdeen were lining up a free kick at the time, so I didn’t get a chance to watch it. I’d liked to have witnessed it a bit more and looked up into the stands, I was aware of it going on though.
“A fantastic tribute to a great player and a great captain, so I was pleased that they did that for him today.”