Craig Gordon walked out of the Etihad not with the jersey of one of Manchester City’s superstars tucked under his arm, but carrying his own shirt.

The Celtic goalkeeper contemplated leaving the club earlier this season when Dorus de Vries arrived, but having forced himself back into the team, Gordon is in no mood to part with the gloves.

The 31-year-old was between the sticks as Celtic sweated through the qualifiers but just as they set foot in the promised land, a tournament he has spent a career aiming for, his place was lost.

It lent a tangible sense of appreciation, then, when it came back round again for the Scotland internationalist.

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“I have one or two shirts from the European campaign but the most important one is this one,” said Gordon, as he held up his own. “I waited a long, long time to play with the Champions League emblem on the sleeves of my strip.

“So it means a lot to me to keep that one, to have something to show from playing at what is the top level in club football.”

Celtic, of course, will be without European football now until the qualifiers roll around against next July, having exited Group C with their pride in tact but with three points that left them rooted to the foot of the table.

And yet, it has been a campaign in which it has been possible to chart Celtic’s progress as the games have come. From that chastening night in the Nou Camp when De Vries was beaten seven times, Celtic succeeded in steadying the ship.

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And it is the manner of their maturation that Gordon believes will be a considerable help when it comes to negotiating the trickery of the qualifiers next time around.

“This is where you want to play,” he said. “I have loved it. I enjoyed trying to play the way we wanted to play and I think we will get even better – if we get back into the Champions League we will be even better because of the experience we have had this season.

“There is a real collective. We are working and performing as a team and I think if we could turn one or two them into wins then who knows.

“We are pretty satisfied with how we conducted ourselves. There were two obvious disappointments, against Barcelona over there and then against Borussia Monchengladbach at Celtic Park but overall we feel that we have shown we deserve to be playing at this level.”

Gordon admitted that his initial reaction when Kelechi Iheanacho netted was that he ought not to have been beaten, although the pace of the ball was the reason why he felt he never got a hand to the driving effort.

“It is not a great area for a goalkeeper to lose a goal from there,” he said. “When it goes high like that it is difficult to keep it out. I felt I reacted quickly but I didn’t get enough on it and that really came down to how much pace was on the ball. They are quality players and when they get chances then they take them but I think the positive thing for us that we created plenty of chances of our own.

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“I think we more than matched Manchester City and we were pretty dominant at times, especially in the second period. We have had two good performances against City and I think we are certainly a better team now than when we first started the campaign.

“We have gained a lot of confidence and that will stand us in good stead.

“The manager has changed things and put in place aspects of our game that has made us better. He has given us confidence and we feel as though we have set our standard high. We have drawn our last two away games and I think that is something new.”

There is a narrative that if Celtic were to have been placed in a less formidable group they might still be involved in the competition, but Gordon believes that the chance to play against Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach is essentially what the tournament is all about.

“It was tough and we were in against three really good teams, but that is what you want as a player,” he said. “You want to be in there and going toe-to-toe with the best. You want to test yourself. It can be incredibly inspiring.”

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“We worked so hard to get here in the first place and when you make it you want to get the chance to play against the top sides and I think we have done that.

“We want to try and get back here but there is always a lot of hard work to make sure that this time next year we are still in the Champions League.”

Meanwhile, there is a coming back to reality tomorrow night as Celtic play Partick Thistle at Firhill, a game that Gordon has insisted will get the same approach and respect from the Parkhead side as any of their Champions League encounters.

“It is about the next game,” he said. “Always. We are playing good stuff, it is enjoyable to play in and we are always creating chances so long may it continue.

“If we keep doing that then everyone will be happy. We want to be the best that we can be and that means continuing with what we are doing domestically and ensuring there is no let up.”