Steven Naismith was delighted to see Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon come through his first competitive outing in 13 months as Hearts scrambled past cinch League Two side Spartans to reach the fifth round of the Scottish Gas Scottish Cup.
The 41-year-old’s career looked in jeopardy when he suffered a double leg-break away to Dundee United on Christmas Eve of 2022, but after a stirring recovery, he returned to the Hearts squad last month and was then rewarded with a start for the short trip across Edinburgh to Ainslie Park.
Gordon made one impressive first-half save to deny Spartans’ Callum Booth but he was helpless as James Craigen’s stunning second-half strike cancelled out Kenneth Vargas’s early opener before Hearts defender Frankie Kent secured a 2-1 win with a stoppage-time header.
“It was good to get him involved in a competitive game and he has the save in the first half which was a good one,” said manager Naismith.
“He probably didn’t have that much to do but it is brilliant to have him back.
“I think that will be good for him. Getting back in the swing of it is probably the main thing he will take.
“I’ve seen him for about a month or so now and I’m comfortable that he’s back to where he was.
“That was always going to be the question mark for someone his age but he has shown that.
“Even his reflexes for the save today, he’s an unbelievable footballer and person. We will cherish him for as long as he can play.”
Asked if Zander Clark, who has deputised for Gordon throughout his absence, will return for Tuesday’s cinch Premiership match at home to Dundee, Naismith said: “We’ll see.”
Hearts talisman Lawrence Shankland, whose future has been the subject of intense speculation recently, missed the Spartans match, with Naismith claiming the 18-goal striker was out due to illness.
“He’s been ill for two days,” said the manager. “On the advice of the medical staff, he hasn’t been in the building because he isn’t wanting to spread it. I don’t know whether he will make Tuesday or not. We will wait and see.”
Naismith was content with the way Hearts played overall even though they needed a last-gasp goal to avoid being taken to extra-time by their fourth-tier hosts.
“I wouldn’t say it was a relief,” he said. “I think when they score we continued to keep doing the same stuff, we didn’t start firing long balls and panic. That’s the positive for us.”
Spartans boss Dougie Samuel was proud of his team for giving themselves a chance of a famous upset.
“I was quite emotional after the game just to scan the stadium and see what we’d been able to put on,” he said.
“For the players to go out and produce a performance that kept us in the game and for a wee while in the second half had people daring to dream says everything about their character. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”