THERE was a time when watching Scotland could be something of a chore. A grim form of national service that had to be endured by generations of weary Scots.

It’s certainly not dull now. Though, Steve Clarke may not entirely approve of how lively his men made this contest from a seemingly unassailable position.

They certainly still have the capacity to keep Tartan Army fingernails extremely well-kempt. They rode their luck at times in Vienna before ultimately blowing a two-goal lead that they had worked so hard to establish. And goalkeeper Craig Gordon had to produce an outstanding performance to keep the Austrians to just those two goals.

The 39-year-old now has 66 caps for Scotland, putting him into the all-time top 10 for appearances for the national side. Rarely can he have played better than this. He was in sensational form, particularly during the first half, when he pulled off a string of impressive saves.

This was far from a backs-to-the-wall, smash-and-grab attempt that used to be Scotland’s trademark on the road. In fact, they were open at the back, far too open for Steve Clarke’s liking, it would have to be fancied.

Much of that had to do with the experimental nature of the side. And on the positive side, they scored two goals – the second a thing of beauty – as they took their unbeaten record to eight games.

It was Jack Hendry who bundled home to give the Scots a first-half lead, and they doubled it through a sensational counter after the interval that was finished off by John McGinn. Alas, Michael Gregoritsch pulled one back for the hosts with 15 minutes to go, and Alessandro Schöpf got a deserved leveller.

Scotland manager Clarke had said he would rotate more than was usual for this friendly after the draw with Poland last Thursday night, and for him, five alterations did represent a departure from the norm.

It was still a strong side though, encouragingly, with a core of experienced players included along with those who were being given a chance to impress.

Among those was Lewis Ferguson, getting his first start, who came into the midfield due to an illness to Kenny McLean. He was alongside Ryan Jack – who returned for the first time since missing the European Championships - and McGinn.

Captain Andy Robertson was back after missing the Poland game, while Hendry replaced Scott McTominay in the back three, and Stuart Armstrong was playing off Che Adams at the other end.

Hampden has been criticised in the past for its lack of atmosphere on occasion, and particularly on nights like these, when hosting a friendly after the national team have already failed to qualify for a major tournament.

This time, the boot was firmly on the Austrian foot, with only around 7000 fans dotted around the vast bowl of the Ernst Happel Stadium. And over 1500 of them were Scots. Even their manager, Franco Foda, had chucked it, tendering his resignation after the World Cup play-off defeat to Wales and stepping down after this game.

It was up to the Scotland team to gee themselves up then and give those travelling fans some reward for following them to Vienna, and they almost immediately did so in impressive fashion.

A lovely one-touch passing exchange down the right eventually led to Nathan Patterson swinging the ball in for McGinn to crash towards goal on the half-volley, but his effort was central and fielded by former Kilmarnock goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann.

There was a scare from a set-piece at the other end, as a Marcel Sabitzer corner was met by the head of Sasa Kalajdzic at point-blank range, but an instinctive, strong left hand from Gordon denied the giant striker.

The game was strikingly open, and Scotland created another good opportunity as a quick break let Stuart Armstrong play in McGinn, but under pressure he could only steer a yard or so past the far post.

It was turning into something of a duel between Gordon and Kalajdzic, with the foot of Gordon denying the forward once more after being picked out by Valentino Lozaro eight yards from goal.

The Scotland keeper then excelled himself as the Austrians carved the Scots open down their right. The ball was eventually cut back for Marko Arnautovic who looked as if he couldn’t miss, but Gordon flung himself to his left and somehow kept him out.

Scotland were lacking the control in midfield normally provided by Billy Gilmour and Callum McGregor, and were struggling to hold onto the ball in the middle of the park.

Adams was doing well though providing an outlet, and the Scots were playing some nice direct football when he managed to haul them up the pitch. He almost opened the scoring at the end of such a counter, his shot being deflected just wide after some nice set-up play from Robertson.

From the corner, a well-worn Scotland routine paid dividends, as a deep McGinn cross found Grant Hanley at his usual back-post station. His header came off the face of the bar, but Hendry was there to bravely force the ball over the line.

It had been an action-packed half, and the second period starting in a similar vein, though Austria were now clearly in the ascendency. The Scots stood firm, though were struggling to get out. When they did though, boy did they get out.

From nowhere, the visitors produced an exquisite move down the left that cut the Austrians to ribbons. Armstrong fed Robertson who saw the marauding run of Tierney beyond him and perfectly picked him out.

He got his head up and in turn, picked out McGinn first time, and he swept the ball high into the net for his 12th goal for Scotland. It was a magnificent goal, and Scotland looked odds-on for the win.

There was the usual raft of substitutions thereafter for both sides though, and ultimately they swung the match in favour of the Austrians. One of those hauled them back into the contest with his first touch.

A delightful ball in from the left from Andreas Ulmer saw Gregoritsch ghost between the Scotland centre-backs and finally beat Gordon with a well-taken header.

Austria had their tails up, and they were soon level. Scotland struggled to clear their lines from a corner, allowing Schöpf to finish well from the edge of the area.

Moments later they were in again, and only a colossal stop from Gordon once more denied Andreas Weimann as he looked to complete a quickfire comeback.

If Scotland were gutted about the nature of the draw against Poland, they could have no complaints here. But there was still enough about the performance to ensure that hope springs eternal ahead of the World Cup play-off semi-final, whenever that may take place.