Aidan Smith: Not a night for streakers in chilly Leith

Easter Road was less than half full as Scotland took on Canada. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
Easter Road was less than half full as Scotland took on Canada. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
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The wait was agonising, the tension unbearable. Any moment now, as the match wound down, the SFA were going to have to concede that no more folk out for an unlikely stroll in the vicinity of Easter Road on a miserable March evening could be dragged off the streets and into the stadium.

They were going to have to hand over a note of the official attendance to the announcer and he would be required to read it out.

We could already see, through the wind and rain, that the crowd was nowhere near the figures for the last four Scotland friendlies played in Leith, including the 2002 match against Canada – 16,201.

And it seemed distinctly possible that the Scotland team as presently constituted, down on their luck and down near the bottom of their World Cup group, were less of an attraction than Ghana vs South Korea, bizarre opponents for a game at Easter Road in 2006 which pulled in 9,500.

But, michty me, would the attendance set a new low – less than the 5,284 for a 1902 game against Wales at Cappielow which has stood as the most Scotia-adverse for more than a century?

Flower of Scotland, before kick-off, sounded like a good-going pub singalong and wisely the piper kept skirling rather than risk an a capella final verse which might have been tragic. Ball-boys and girls chittered and blew their hands furiously and might well be off school today.

Every shout from the pitch could be heard as the players charged about the greasy surface and strove to stir the hardy souls, masochists and Tartan Army completists rattling about in the stands. An early goal for Canada was the last thing this match needed, from a Scotland perspective anyway, but one duly arrived on ten minutes with Falkirk’s Fraser Aird scarcely able to believe his good fortune as he fired the world’s 117th-ranked team into the lead.

Might Gordon Strachan have included more Hibs and Hearts players to generate interest?

The manager isn’t your PT Barnum-type who’ll pull any stunt to boost the box-office. John McGinn, or as he’s known round these parts, Super John McGinn, was in the squad, but rather than start the Hibee hero with a sandwich board and loudhailer to drum up some Leith business, Strachan opted to stick him on the bench.

This enabled Tom Cairney to win his first cap and the Fulham man was neat in possession as Ikechi Anya’s bombing breaks down the right seemed Scotland’s best route to an equaliser but Canada fancied another and so did Aird, prompting boos from the bedraggled few.

The previous three Easter Road internationals have produced curios and collector’s items, if you’re into such oddities as a Nigel Quashie goal, the spectacle of a Scotland player – Ian Black – being jeered as he took the field for his debut ... and a streaker.

The last happened in the friendly against Qatar two years ago but there was absolutely no chance of a repeat. Quite apart from the brass-monkey conditions, these folk are exhibitionists – they need an audience – and last night’s gathering didn’t amount to the necessary quorum.

Not so much a flasher, Scotland needed a flash of inspiration. The equaliser was hardly inspired – a Cairney shot deflected by Steven Naismith past Simon Thomas when the Maple Leaf goalkeeper seemed to be building towards a heroic night – but it was welcome all the same.

Canada’s Scots drew the occasional jeer but these were half-hearted.

They certainly didn’t put off Aird who continued to surge forward after the break.

Andy Robertson and Barry Bannan were introduced and by the hour Scotland had a firm grip on proceedings but couldn’t quite carve out an opening. Bannan had the clearest sight of goal but after Thomas saved his too-straight first effort the Sheffield Wednesday player blasted over.

Leigh Griffiths, the ex-Hibs man, got a big cheer when he appeared, proving that the crowd hadn’t frozen in their seats.

The groans when Robert Snodgrass couldn’t control a fast-hit through-ball confirmed that, small in number they may have been, but they wanted a winner.

Surely the SFA will have a rethink about ticket prices. Against such modest opposition on a midweek night when the national team are struggling, the £22 price wasn’t much of an incentive to leave the telly, where you could find the game if you really wanted to watch. Those Hibs fans who chose to see it in the raw were rewarded with McGinn’s introduction for the last 15 minutes.

He arrived in time to see Aird – who will be an opponent on Saturday when Falkirk visit Easter Road in the Championship – wallop a shot which Allan McGregor had to tip over.

That game should attract a 15,000 crowd. Last night’s attendance, revealed with four minutes remaining, was 9,158. To a man they deserved to take a bow – then hurry off home.