Craig Gordon back for Scotland as Steve Clarke ponders ‘interesting’ keeper call

By Sports Desk March 12, 2024

Steve Clarke handed Craig Gordon the chance to play his way into the Euro 2024 squad as he displayed his loyalty to the players who have served him well in recent years.

The 41-year-old is one of four goalkeepers included in a 25-man group for friendlies against the Netherlands and Northern Ireland this month as Clarke keeps his options open.

With Callum McGregor, Aaron Hickey and Jacob Brown missing out through injury, Clarke hopes to have some tough decisions to make when he whittles his squad down to 23 players by the June 7 deadline – seven days before Scotland take on Germany in the tournament opener.

There were no surprises in the latest squad. Rangers midfielder Ryan Jack is absent after being troubled by fitness issues in recent months while Josh Doig and Robby McCrorie have dropped out following November’s games against Georgia and Norway.

Lawrence Shankland retains his place after netting in Tbilisi following his late call-up while Angus Gunn, Gordon, John Souttar, Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney and Grant Hanley are all back in following injury.

“It’s good to get a few back,” Clarke said. “Obviously there are still three or four missing that I would like to have been in the squad. But the key thing for me is to make sure that, come the start of May, I’ve got tough selections to make, everybody fit and available.

“If we can get to May and I have to make those tough decisions, obviously it will be unfortunate for the ones who miss out, but that’s part of the job, I have got to do it. I will be ready to do it.”

When asked if there was space for anyone to make a late run for the squad, he said: “There’s always opportunity but what I can’t really get my head around is this squad, you talk about the core squad, they haven’t let anybody down. They have done really well for their country and they deserve the chance to go to the Euros.”

Gordon has not been able to dislodge Zander Clark from the Hearts team since recovering from a double leg break but the 74-times capped goalkeeper has started in three Scottish Cup ties.

Clarke watched him keep a clean sheet as Steven Naismith’s side reached the semi-finals against Morton at Cappielow on Monday night.

The former Kilmarnock manager explained his reasoning behind picking four goalkeepers with Clark, Gunn and Gordon joined by Motherwell’s Liam Kelly.

“It gives us a chance to look at Craig up close because he has had three competitive games and, without being disrespectful to the opposition Hearts have played in the cup, probably not games where Craig was over-worked,” he said.

“So it will be nice to see Craig in training with the other goalkeepers. Three of those goalkeepers will go to the Euros and one will miss out.

“I will just assess everything I’ve got. Obviously with the make-up of a squad going into a tournament, there’s other factors as well involved in terms of squad stability and boys that have been in a squad a long time. It’s going to be an interesting decision.

“Obviously Zander has the number-one jersey at Hearts, which tells you a lot about the performances Zander has been putting in. Liam Kelly has been steady in the league again, as he always is, and it’s nice to have Angus Gunn back after missing the November games. It’s nice to have all four competing for three positions.

“There will be a number of factors – performance on the pitch, playing regularly, and just the make-up and the dynamic of the group, people that have been on the squad, players who train well.

“There’s a lot of centre-halves in there as well. I’m not going to be taking all those centre-backs, so there is a similar situation there. They have to impress, they have to play well at their clubs if given the opportunity to play, and then I’ve got to make the selection.”

Brown (knee) and Hickey (hamstring) are recovering from surgery but there is some uncertainty over McGregor’s Achilles problem with Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers last week stating a scan had been inconclusive.

Clarke said: “I had a brief chat with Callum with this week because I knew he was going to be missing this camp, but no big issues moving forward, I don’t think.”

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