Scotland 1 - 1 Canada: Just over 9,000 see Scots held

Scotland's Steven Naismith in action against Canada's Scott Arfield. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
Scotland's Steven Naismith in action against Canada's Scott Arfield. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
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If the intention was for Scotland players to play their way out of contention for Sunday’s World Cup qualifier with Slovenia, then this could be interpreted as a successful night in the east end of Edinburgh.

If not, and it surely wasn’t, then it was another unhappy evening for Gordon Strachan’s Scotland, who remain in desperate need of a lift.

Only debutant Tom Cairney looked to have boosted his prospects. It was the Fulham midfielder’s shot that was deflected in by Steven Naismith for Scotland’s equaliser after 34 minutes.

Fraser Aird, who returns to this ground on Saturday with Falkirk for a Championship fixture against Hibs, opened the scoring for Canada after just ten minutes and he might have had a hat-trick.

The toiling Chris Martin and Naismith made way for Leigh Griffiths and Jordan Rhodes just after the hour but even this popular double switch failed to significantly alter the course of the game. Rhodes, indeed, fluffed a chance at the near post in the dying moments after Griffiths’ cross.

John McGinn, the sole Hibs player in the squad, was not seen until the 75th minute when he replaced Cairney and his entrance drew the biggest cheer of a miserable night.

The second half was a non-event with only Barry Bannan seriously testing the Canada goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler, who had replaced Simon Thomas at half-time.

The underfoot conditions were a mitigating factor but then Canada had to endure the same on a freezing night in the Scottish capital in front of just over 9,000 spectators.

Scotland skipper Darren Fletcher looked as if he was running in quick sand at one point as he struggled through the centre circle. Cairney then lost his footing in midfield but heroically almost managed to retain possession despite his stumbles taking him ever closer to losing his balance completely. Such passages of play summed up an untidy affair on a worn pitch that was hardly improved by the torrential rain that fell before kick-off.

There were some suggestions the match might even be called off. Around ten minutes in, Strachan was surely wishing it had been.

This is how long it took Canada to make their mark in a fixture designed to provide Scotland with encouragement prior to Sunday’s rather more crucial clash with Slovenia.

But the goal Scotland conceded was a masterpiece of abjectness. A poor ball out of defence from Charlie Mulgrew was placed so precisely between Cairney and Naismith that they left it for each other. The visitors broke towards goal with Ikechi Anya, Scotland’s right back, caught too far up the pitch.

While Junior Hoilett’s cross gave Scotland an opportunity to clear, neither Mulgrew nor Lee Wallace took it. Aird steadied himself before slamming the ball past Allan McGregor, who was making his first Scotland start for 12 months.

It might have been worse – Scott Arfield, who declared for Canada after being overlooked by Scotland, could have scored. But then there was still plenty time left for that.

While Scotland did equalise after 34 minutes through Naismith’s deflection, few could argue Canada could and should have been ahead at the interval on balance of chances. There was certainly no fooling the redoubtable supporters inside the sparsely populated Easter Road. They booed Scotland’s efforts when Danish referee Jakob Kehlet blew for half-time and did so again at the end.

They had watched as a Canada side ranked 117 in the world looked genuinely threatening. Scotland did hit a post through Cairney, one of Scotland’s few bright performers and who made a major contribution towards his side’s equaliser. Not that the Fulham midfielder’s shot from 12 yards out seemed to be heading in before Naismith’s fortunate intervention, which sent the ball towards the far corner of a wrong-footed Thomas’ net.

Scotland had other chances. Martin’s shot was blocked by Thomas when most expected the striker to place the ball past the keeper, while Oliver Burke, too, was denied. But Canada could point to more and probably better opportunities.

Aird waltzed into the box and curled a shot inches past McGregor’s far post. A Simeon Jackson effort was then deflected on to the roof of the Scotland keeper’s net. Hoilett fresh air kicked inside the box before Marcos Bustos shot just wide. Aird’s fierce drive in the second half was tipped over by McGregor.

It was turning into a less than productive night for Scotland, although Strachan will point to the need to give some players game-time. The likes of Anya, Griffiths and Martin were handed this at least but then did little to stake a claim for the weekend, when others can be confident of returning.

Strachan will simply be glad he can turn to his core of Celtic players for Sunday’s World Cup qualifier, Stuart Armstrong among them. The in-form Celtic midfielder’s first cap is now surely only a matter of days away. Indeed, Armstrong’s reputation was only enhanced by not being anywhere to be seen last night.