Craig Gordon for Scotland? Maybe first decide: Gordon for Sunderland?

Craig GordonImages: Addick-tedKevin

So according to the Telegraph, Craig Gordon is hoping to be involved at some stage of Scotland’s friendly with Brazil at the Emirates on Sunday. This appears to run counter to Steve Bruce’s insistence that he can play only in an emergency because SAFC are still trying to solve his tendinitis problems …

But more intriguing was this quote:

“I would not rule out playing for either club or country if needed. I don’t expect to play in the next few weeks for Sunderland, but if I am asked to I will.”

If you’re fit to play, you’re fit to play. Is Gordon saying it’s only a friendly. Or is he saying he thinks Simon Mignolet has edged ahead of him in the pecking order and would be Bruce’s first choice anyway, at least for now?

Gordon has been brilliant for Sunderland and has also been iffy. He can be both in the same game. At his best, he is one of the world’s best shotstoppers and that would normally put him ahead of Mignolet.

But the Belgian commands his box well whereas the Scot does not, well not always. It seems to depend on who is out there in the back four and Gordon is certainly entitled to have reservations about the cover they’ve offered him at times.

My instinctive thought is when he feels confidence in the defence as a whole, his own game is raised a notch or two; his self-assurance can be rattled, as was shown by a slightly petulant gesture towards a TV cameraman as he left the field at halftime after conceding that equaliser to Spurs. And it is highly likely that he feels the £9m price tag, not of his making, a heavy burden. But overall, I’d be very disappointed to lose him even though I agree with those who see Mignolet as a tremendous prospect.

It is worth asking where other people stand on the Gordon v Mignolet issue, not least since few clubs can hope to keep two top-rate and seriously ambitious keepers happy. Plenty of people have expressed an opinion here in the past. Here’s another chance. I will reproduce, below and without any attempt to update it, an item posted just before the Manchester United home game earlier in the season:

Who keeps goal against the stars of Manchester United on Saturday? Craig Gordon’s recovery from injury hands a tough old decision to Steve Bruce …

Simon Mignolet has faced three of the supposedly top clubs already in a season that is still very young.

After those games against Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool, his record is impressive:

P3 W1 D2 L0 F4 A3 Pts5

The statistics reflect robust team performances, of course.

But the young Belgian, having made a slightly wobbly start in the opening game against Birmingham City, has been an undoubted star of our highly respectable start in which more discipline against lowlier opposition would have seen us very near the top of the Premier League

So who is that snapping at Mignolet’s heels just as we prepare to face yet another mighty challenge, Manchester United at home on Saturday?

Craig Gordon, who had an excellent 2009/10 season when not injured, is back to fitness, played 90 minutes for the Reserves in a creditable 1-1 draw at Villa and has declared as his straightforward target a first team return against United.

It is a big decision for Steve Bruce and the choice he makes may be influenced by his and the club’s medium-term thinking on Gordon.

Arsenal have been reported as being interested in a move for Gordon in the New Year transfer window.

Bruce will know whether this amounts to more than idle speculation; if it does, then his choice on Saturday may well be influenced to some extent by how fixed he is on keeping his No 1 keeper.

Gordon cost us £9m, is Scotland’s first choice and, on his day, ranks among the Premier’s best keepers. No one would expect him to settle for understudy status, and it would be a gross misuse of a £9m investment to think of him in such terms.

And yet Mignolet has been a revelation. No one knew quite whether he would be up to the Premier League and his response has been magnificent.

So we have gone from an immediate pre-season of anxiety about having any keeper fit and convincing enough at all to an embarrassment of riches. Mignolet may be utterly philosophical about Bruce’s dilemma; he is almost certainly human enough to believe he has done everything that could possibly have been expected of him to keep his place.

From the official club site, we learn that Gordon had a busy start at Villa Park, “holding James Collins’s 30-yard shot before turning another effort onto the post”. There is no hint of culpability in the Villa goal: “he was beaten when Collins crossed for Berry to hammer home across the face of goal.”

Bruce himself says: “The competition is fierce at the moment and that’s great. As a manager I want two people in every position. Simon’s form at the moment has enabled us to not rush Craig back when maybe we might have done before.”

Read as much or as little as you wish into those words, remembering that Bruce has shown himself to be perfectly capable of a spot of kidology prior to actual team selection.

It is perhaps asking too much that any Salut! Sunderland reader was at Villa Park – though even our away Reserve games attract a little knot of SAFC supporters – and can offer a clue as to how assured and ready Gordon looked.

But I bet there’s plenty of lively opinion among Sunderland fans generally on whether we should be pinning our hopes on Mignolet in the sure knowledge that this would also mean preparing for a future without Craig Gordon.

* In the event, Mignolet played and kept a clean sheet (a draw in which we were the better side).

Monsieur Salut

2 thoughts on “Craig Gordon for Scotland? Maybe first decide: Gordon for Sunderland?”

  1. Well, he’s either fit to play or he isn’t. I don’t think that he’s injured at all, or at least not sufficiently to warrant being left out as a result of being injured.

    Mignolet will be a better keeper than Gordon is now, and very soon. He is young and makes mistakes but will iron these out only in the heat of battle. I prefer Mignolet to Gordon.

  2. After a shaky start Mignolet has proved a very good goalkeeper.
    There are some mistakes he makes that come from a lack of experience (eg: Suarez goal on Saturday), but overall is very impressive.
    Gordon, on his day, is inspired though. If Gordon was in form I’d pick him. He has his days off like at Stoke where he failed to deal aerially with their threat, but then again Stoke has done that to other teams too.
    At the moment, I’d feel slightly happier with Gordon in goal just because of his experience.

    (Interesting that I read an article this week where Gordon was touted as a replacement for Van Der Sar. I don’t think so, quite yet….)

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