SEE ALSO: guess-who-was-our-star
In praise of a footballer who has had to triumph over doubt – and done so in style …
More years ago than Salut! Sunderland would willingly own up to to remembering, an away game took us to Huddersfield, where Sunderland won 3-0 in a game that began with a blitz on our goal.
The reason we weren’t left with an uphill struggle before scoring ourselves was simple: Jimmy Montgomery’s form that day was not so much outstanding as extraordinary.
He made a series of saves that told me – a would-be keeper on my own account, admittedly at a somewhat lower (school!) level – he was utter class. I can still conjure, just about, mental images of Monty’s outstretched palm pushing a header to safety, or diving a mile high to grab a shot.
Other fans of a certain age will recall different games where he excelled. Everyone knows about 1973 and Wembley, even if they weren’t yet born.
And today, from Craig Gordon, we witnessed a display between Sunderland goalposts of Montyesque quality and skill.
At half-time I wrote that despite Darren Bent’s goals – great strikes, incidentally – our star was Craig Gordon. And so it continued as Birmingham mounted a wave of attacks that, in all honesty, merited a point.
Was it, overall, seven or eight or nine quite brilliant saves that Gordon made? Three crackers in the first half, when we were actually the better side, and several more after the break when the Blues were in the ascendancy.
It was a performance that took me back not only to Monty’s various heroics but to the night I first became aware of Craig Gordon’s goalkeeping prowess.
Sitting at home, which was then in Paris, I turned the television to the France v Scotland game that the records will always show was decided by an incredible strike from James McFadden – also present today, for Birmingham – but was in fact won by one wonder save after another by Gordon. The French press drooled about how good he was.
He has taken a while to reproduce that match-winning or match-saving form for Sunderland. But it has come this season: suddenly more commanding in his territory (probably because the defenders at last command confidence), and suddenly pulling off decisive saves.
He was, as Steve Bruce has said, doiing well until a red card (but unpunished) challenge by Defoe at Spurs forced a long layoff. He has come back as an absolute star.
Mancini was full of praise after the Man City game, I haven’t yet seen Alec McLeish’s quotes* but cannot imagine him being less effusive.
Salut! Sunderland will not be hypocritical enough to suggest it has never harboured doubts about Gordon in a Sunderland shirt, and at such a price (in itself not his fault).
Those doubts would have been swept away in any case by the general standard of his goalkeeping this season. The events of last Sunday and today tell us the doubts should not really have existed inthe first place.
* Alex McLeish has spoken: “Craig Gordon has saved them from losing, he was magnificent. That was an international class performance from him.