Lee McCulloch insists Hearts should “100%” be challenging the Old Firm

Hearts’ co-assistant manager, Lee McCulloch, met the media ahead of Saturday’s trip to Ross County. Jamie McIntosh reports. 

Photo Credit – SNS Group

Craig Gordon made it three consecutive clean sheets on Sunday with an Edinburgh derby shutout at Tynecastle.

The new Hearts skipper has made the most saves in the top-flight so far, racking up 24 saves in Hearts’ opening five fixtures. 

While his on the field performances attract the majority of the attention, his assistant coach, Lee McCulloch, insists that Gordon is also a joy to work with in training.

“He’s still at his peak,” McCulloch admitted. 

“I think his full career, his levels have been through the roof. His consistency doesn’t get spoken about enough, he’s certainly got a few more years in him and he’s an absolute pleasure to work with from the coaching staff’s point of view.

“He’ll speak his opinion and he’s a true leader in how he acts on and off the pitch. It’s just brilliant to have him in the dressing room. What a phenomenal career he’s had, but I think there’s still a good bit of success left in him.”

Believe it or not, Craig Gordon is actually 38 years old, although you wouldn’t think it considering some of the saves he’s pulled off this season alone and like captains should, McCulloch admits that the stopper conducts himself with the utmost professionalism:

“He’s the sort of father figure of the dressing room. He has utmost respect for the players, you see the condition of his body, the way he plays in every aspect of his game. 

“He’s a phenomenon, I think it can only be good for the club, but good for him too, he’s definitely got two, three, four years left in him, one million percent.”

Considering some of the goalkeepers that defenders like Michael Smith and Craig Halkett have had behind them in recent years, McCulloch agrees that Gordon’s presence alone can help calm the defence.

“Exactly. Even corners against and cross balls, he commands the box and speaks well like a true leader should do, yes I think he’s very reassuring. Everything that a good goalie should have, he’s got in abundance. 

“What else can I say, he’s Scotland’s number one at the moment and has been for a long, long time in his career. He’s played at the highest level in England as well, in Scotland, at international level and in the Champions League… There’s not much more to say, it just speaks volumes for itself.”

Despite being called into action more than any other top-flight goalkeeper so far this season with regards to saves made, McCulloch doesn’t see that as a bad reflection on the defence in front of him.

“I think you can look at stats anyway you want,” McCulloch explained.

“Does that tell you we’ve got the worst defence? No, because we’ve not lost a game. 

“I don’t know how those stats have been put together, but yes that’s what he’s there to do and that’s what he’ll continue to do. I’ll confidently say that, so, no, I’m certainly not concerned from the defence’s point of view.”

Hearts travel north on Saturday to face Ross County in Dingwall and despite occupying 11th spot in the table, the Staggies have already played five of last season’s top six teams. 

“They’re a good team and have a good manager with a proven record. They’ve recruited quite a few players, so they’re probably just getting over the bedding-in period.

“They’ve got one or two players who could hurt us, we’re well aware of that. We’ve had a look at them but it’s basically concentrating on ourselves.

“There has to be no complacency from the players, and we have to go out and try to do our utmost to get three points and keep the good start we’ve had to the season going and keeping the momentum going.”

Victory in last Sunday’s Edinburgh derby would’ve seen Hearts top the cinch Premiership table after the opening five rounds of fixtures and McCulloch reiterated Robbie Neilson’s comments that the Jambos have to be challenging the Old Firm.

“One hundred per cent that’s what this club is all about – trying to split the Old Firm and then can we go above and beyond that.

“It’s high expectations but it’s a massive club and we need to cope with those expectations.

“As staff and a dressing room we have done that so far. It’s that message – can we get better together week by week?

“Time will tell how quickly we can do that. It’s been a good start but that’s all it’s been. We have a long season ahead and it’s about that progression.

“I have known since I started following football how successful a club Hearts are, how hard it is to go to Tynecastle and get a result. I think we have brought that back. Before we came in, the club had won four league games the previous season, so it speaks volumes for the management and change of mentality in that time. We are heading in the right direction but there’s no complacency.”

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