SATURDAY afternoon might well have been seen as the return of the comeback kid but Craig Gordon’s return between the sticks could also be interpreted as the 29-year-old being given a chance to put himself in the shop window.
Gordon made his first appearance since February 2011 in the 2-1 home defeat against Tottenham Hotspur which was followed by a knee injury – and subsequent operation – that had kept him out since. During that time Simon Mignolet stepped up to the plate and has more or less made the number one spot his own.
With Sunderland’s Premier League status long since secured and with hopes of a European spot being postponed yet again for another season, Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill decided to rest the young Belgian and give Gordon a shot in goal before the season runs its course.
Going on from what O’Neill said in the after-match press conference, the line being espoused was that the Sunderland manager merely wanted to take a look at Gordon to see where he would fit into his plans for the club next year. A reasonable enough assessment given that when at Aston Villa, the Ulsterman competed for Craig’s signature with Sunderland back in 2007 before the keeper chose the Black Cats.
Or he could have been doing a fellow football man a favour and allowed him to show the rest of the world that this particular goalkeeper has bounced back from injury and still has what it takes.
Having dealt with Gordon with his previous clubs as well as Scotland, we do have one of those rare breeds of British footballers – someone who is eloquent and forthright and maybe the ‘bad news’ of his departure may be seen by the great powers at Stadium of Light towers as something that’s best buried during the off-season when every man and his dog will be away on holiday before the new Premier League campaign starts.
Whatever, the fact is that Gordon is at long last playing first team football and boosted his own cause of finding employment elsewhere with an assured display which will remind other clubs that there’s a quality goalie going very cheap given that his contract expires this summer.
Arsene Wenger has long coveted Gordon ever since he kept out the Frenchman’s nation in a European Championship qualifier in 2006 which Scotland won 1-0. Given Arsenal have not really settled their own goalkeeping issues out, Wenger may choose to finally land a player who has long admired.
Not to mention other clubs’ interest that might be pricking up. Spurs have their issues, while if the promoted clubs want an established keeper to boost their survival chances, they can have this one for free.
While Gordon did concede two goals last Saturday, poor defending did leave him with little chance of stopping them. However, saves towards the end of each half prevented a defeat.
The first of those came at 1-1. Beforehand, slack marking had allowed Kevin Davies to sneak in unmarked at the far-post to volley home Martin Petrov’s exquisite cross from the left. Sunderland responded when Jack Colback played a delightful low, diagonal ball which sliced through Bolton’s defence for Nicklas Bendtner to tuck home the equaliser.
Cue Gordon to then stop Bolton taking the lead before the interval. Poor marking again allowed David N’Gog this time all the space in the world to unleash a volley inside the box. The former Liverpool man didn’t make the best of contact but the ball bounced viciously off the ground and would have looped him had Gordon not stretched his 6ft 4in frame to the full to tip the ball onto the crossbar and over.
Come the second half and Sunderland did step up their play and were rewarded when James McClean showed that dead-ball specialist Sebastian Larsson need not be that big a miss by curling in a free-kick of his own.
But Sunderland’s defence was having one of those shaky days with Matt Kilgallon in particular finding Davies too hard to handle, with the latter shrugging off the Cats man’s challenge with ease to head home from six-yards out to level.
With Wigan going berserk against Newcastle, Bolton needed all three points and it was thanks to Gordon that they didn’t get them late on. Sunderland failed to clear their lines and as the ball dropped to Ivan Klasnic, many expected the net to bulge only for the Cats keeper to save well with his feet.
The Bolton sub got another opportunity soon after when a careless backpass from Wayne Bridge sent him clean through, only for Gordon to once again make a superb save at Klasnic’s feet and demonstrate that if his own club are not about to offer him a suitable deal to stay on, then he is capable of fulfilling a key role for somebody else.