Craig Gordon suspects Rangers backlash is coming for Hearts as he plots roadblock in Jack Butland's journey

Craig Gordon loves a gutsy goalkeeping career revival. So it’s no surprise he’s an admirer of Jack Butland’s journey.

The Hearts veteran’s latest comeback leads him to Hampden for a Scottish Cup semi-final. His rival is a Rangers No.1 who, like Gordon, was fast-tracked to first-team stardom as a teen before moving swiftly on to international recognition. But long, top-level goalie careers can’t possibly be all plain sailing.

Few have defied the odds as much as Gordon, whose latest trick is returning from a double leg break at 41. Yet injury and inactivity also stalled the rise of Butland – until he joined Gers. The English ace feared his playing days were over in 2016 when two ops failed to fix his fractured ankle. He missed 13 months before returning for Stoke. But, two years later, his popularity plummeted after leaving the Potters. Butland played just 17 games in three years before moving to Ibrox. He warmed the bench for the entire 2022/23 season at Crystal Palace then Manchester United.

That has been no barrier to a sensational season in Scotland and Gordon is impressed with Butland’s return to prominence. But he’s hellbent on Hearts harming that heroic tale at Hampden.

Gordon said: “You know of people coming through in your position and Jack was always highly talked about as a future England goalkeeper. I always knew his qualities. Things started really well for him then he had a couple of blips.

“His career down south maybe stalled a little bit. Injuries are part of football – they happen. It’s all about how you battle back from them, not let them define you and be stronger than you were before.

“He played a couple of seasons as second or even third-choice at clubs. Jack obviously has a very good mentality to come through everything and play to the levels he has this season.

“Now you see his talent coming through and the confidence he has gained from playing every week at Rangers. He has been a vitally important player for them, keeping them in games with match-winning performances.

“To play regularly and in Europe shows what he’s capable of – and he has a possibility of still making the England squad for the Euros. He’s had a brilliant season and it shows how successful a move it has been.

“So full credit to Jack for battling back from all the adversities that can go on in a football career. He’s playing top level again – and he has been very good. It’s fantastic for him. I just hope that we can stick a few past him and get through to the final.”

Jack Butland -Credit:PA
Jack Butland -Credit:PA

Gordon is only four games into a top-team return since suffering a devastating injury on Christmas Eve 2022. He has been installed as Stevie Naismith’s ‘Cup keeper’ yet also played against Livingston last week in the league.

The prospect of a fourth Scottish Cup winners’ medal was a massive incentive on the long road to recovery. “These are the kind of games that fuelled my motivation for battling back,” he said.

“This is what I wanted to come back and do. It has taken a wee bit longer than I thought but this is a huge game to look forward to. These are the moments that you miss when you’re out.

“And I will miss them when the day finally comes that I’m not playing any more. Especially where I’ve come from in the last year, to be looking forward to this game is a big moment.

“There’s that little edge to Scottish Cup games at this club and that’s not just about me. Everyone here wants to win. Hopefully we get that far.”

Gordon’s first taste of a Hampden semi-final was a sore one – all of 19 years ago. He was beaten by Chris Sutton and Craig Bellamy as Celtic prevailed 2-1.

The following spring he was back as Jambos routed Hibs 4-0 en route to the final against Gretna and silverware glory. Gordon has been no stranger to Hampden ever since – with Hearts, Celtic and Scotland.

He said: “I’ve been fortunate to play a lot of games at Hampden so I feel comfortable there. I’ve lifted a few trophies so those happy memories tend to stick with you a bit more.

“I’ve had more happy days than sad ones at Hampden. So that probably dictates what I think of the stadium. This is the next opportunity to go there and show I am still at the same level as before. It’s one I’m looking forward to.”

Rangers hitting a rocky patch before the last-four showdown will be looked on as good news by hopeful Hearts fans. Gordon is long enough in the tooth to be wary of the repercussions of Gers slumping to defeat in Dingwall then dropping points in Dundee.

He said: “Does it show they’re vulnerable or there’s going to be a backlash? Who knows? It could be either. I suspect it could be more along the lines of a backlash.

“I’d imagine that Rangers will have to come back and play well and that they’ll come to Hampden with their ‘A’ game to get to the final. But if we can put our game plan in place and perhaps shock them a little bit as well then you never know what can happen.”