Scotland new boy Tom Cairney enhances reputation

Scotland's Tom Cairney, centre, battles with Canada's Samuel Piette. Picture: SNS
Scotland's Tom Cairney, centre, battles with Canada's Samuel Piette. Picture: SNS
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For the vast majority of those involved, either on the sodden pitch or in the chilly stands, this was a Scotland match which will be quickly and happily erased from the memory banks.

At least one man will recall it fondly many years from now, however, as the night he made his senior debut in dark blue. Tom Cairney was also perhaps the only player wearing that colour to emerge with his reputation enhanced.

The Fulham midfielder’s display was one of the few positives Scotland manager Gordon Strachan could take from the 1-1 draw with Canada which did nothing to improve the gloomy narrative surrounding the national team.

With Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser not risked because of a slight hamstring problem, Cairney was the only debutant in Strachan’s starting line-up.

If this was an occasion for which very few could muster much enthusiasm, the former Hull City and Blackburn playmaker would certainly be among the exceptions to that prevailing mood.

Nottingham-born Cairney has had to exercise considerable patience in his ambition to represent the country of his Scottish father but his widely lauded club form this 
season finally presented a compelling case for his inclusion which Strachan could not ignore.

The Scotland manager himself described Cairney as the best midfield player in the highly competitive and physically demanding English Championship, where his nine goals and numerous assists for Fulham have contributed significantly to the London club’s push for a return to the Premier League.

As he made his first senior appearance for Scotland, the 26-year-old found himself lining up in central midfield alongside a man winning his 78th cap. Darren Fletcher, now third on the all-time Scotland appearance list behind only Kenny Dalglish and Jim Leighton, was the ideal mentor to bed Cairney in at international level.

In fairness to the newcomer, though, he displayed little sign of requiring his hand to be held. Cairney made a confident start and was arguably the most composed and accurate performer for the Scots in an opening period which provided so many uncomfortable moments for Strachan. As the home side looked to respond to the error-strewn concession of Fraser Aird’s 11th-minute opener for 
Canada, Cairney was eager to provide a creative spark.

He produced a couple of piercing passes into the visitors’ area to get Scotland on to the front foot, creating openings which Chris Martin and then Lee Wallace were both unable to make the most of.

Cairney also played his part in delivering Strachan the relief of an equaliser before half-time when he seized on a poor defensive clearance to drive in a shot which, while heading wide, allowed Steven 
Naismith to divert the ball home from close range.

With the Celtic duo of Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong not involved last night with Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Slovenia in mind, Cairney appears unlikely to retain a place in the starting line-up for that far more 
critical Hampden assignment.

But, as he left the field in the closing stages here, replaced by local favourite John McGinn, the new boy had certainly done no harm at all to his prospect of more regular involvement with Scotland over the next few seasons.