CRAIG Gordon is eyeing his first taste of competitive action in more than a year after returning to the Scotland squad for tomorrow’s friendly in Slovenia.
But Sunderland and Scotland team-mate Phil Bardsley will not feature in Eastern Europe after succumbing to a calf injury which has made him a major doubt for Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby.
Gordon has not featured for Sunderland’s first team since February last year, with the last of his 40 Scotland caps coming in November, 2010.
The 29-year-old continues to suffer pain in his knee, although he has featured in three reserve games for the Black Cats since returning to full training.
With his contract at the Stadium of Light expiring in the summer, Gordon is well aware of the pressing need to prove his fitness.
But Britain’s most expensive keeper admits it’s been a boost to be rubbing shoulders with his international team-mates again after a torrid 12 months of injury problems.
Gordon, pictured, said: “I am delighted to be back among the squad. It has been a long recovery and it is always a boost to be invited to join up with the international team.
“My main focus is getting back to full fitness and feeling pain-free. Craig (Levein, Scotland boss) has been great with me and it helps getting around the guys again.
“I have a big challenge ahead of me for club and country but I have great respect for Martin (O’Neill) – who has made a huge impact since his arrival –and obviously if I can win back my place at Sunderland it will help my chances at international level.
“For now, I am just glad to be back.”
While Gordon is on the road to recovery, full-back Bardsley is facing a race against time to be fit for the trip to the Sports Direct Arena after withdrawing from the Scotland squad with a suspected calf tear.
The 26-year-old reported to the Scotland camp on Sunday night with a calf injury, sustained in last weekend’s 4-0 defeat at West Brom.
Assistant boss Peter Houston said: “Phil was here on Sunday night but he’s not going to make it.
“The thing that amazes me is that Phil Bardsley travelled up and he has maybe got a calf tear.”
Bardsley will undergo a scan on the injury, but a tear would see Black Cats boss O’Neill forced to rejig his defence for the derby.
Midfielder Craig Gardner could revert to right-back, as he did successfully last month, while O’Neill also has the option of bringing in Matt Kilgallon or January signing Sotirios Kyrgiakos at centre-half, with John O’Shea switching to full-back.