Ryan Porteous and the Scotland conundrum of when to celebrate as the former Hibs defender targets Euro 2024

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Centre-back is loving life at international level.

Only if and when Scotland qualify for the 2024 European Championship will Ryan Porteous feel a proper sense of international achievement. Not beating Spain, not the smash-and-grab in Oslo, not a historic run of four qualifying wins, not even surviving Hampden Park’s midweek biblical downpour fills the defender with a real feeling of attainment. He is aiming high with a national squad that promises so much. They are delivering hitherto.

An emptying of Glasgow’s heavens could not stop them on Tuesday evening as Georgia fell to a 2-0 defeat and the Scots made history. Never before had they taken maximum points from the opening four qualifiers in any campaign. Porteous, while chuffed with that statistic, still isn’t sated. The former Hibs defender, now at Watford, believes only a place in Germany next summer will completely meet his desires.

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For those who feel the national team are building something special under the wily Steve Clarke, he has an appropriate response. “It’s definitely special that we keep progressing but it’s nothing special until you actually get there,” said the 24-year-old, who won his fifth senior cap against the Georgians. “A lot of people wouldn’t have thought the group for the last Euros was special until we actually did qualify. We are in the same boat and need to get there first before we celebrate.

“We got big results against Spain and Norway when you’re up against it a bit, so you don’t want to let that slide at home and you’ve got a massive advantage. That was the message against Georgia: ‘Let’s not slip up, just keep going, one game at a time and see where it takes us.’

It took them to history with 12 points from 12 and a place atop Group A. Georgia and Norway sit joint-second on four points. “It’s brilliant. This team continues to make its own history,” exclaimed Porteous. “Every time we go away there is always something. We can’t take it for granted because we’ve done nothing yet. We have had a fantastic first half of the group but there are massive games to come as well. We know we have to concentrate.

“We enjoy every night but we probably don’t look at the bigger picture as much as you [media] do. That’s your job, you’ve got to get the fans excited and quite right. It’s very important that we are grounded. The gaffer said in the press that, when you think you’re doing well, that’s when football can bite you.”

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Whatever success comes his way, the defender is entitled to feel he has earned it. Progress through the Hibs youth system and into the first team was not always straightforward, there was a loan at Edinburgh City in 2016/17, plus a sustained period as an international fringe player.

Ryan Porteous has played his way into the Scotland defence this year and taken his opportunity. Pic: SNSRyan Porteous has played his way into the Scotland defence this year and taken his opportunity. Pic: SNS
Ryan Porteous has played his way into the Scotland defence this year and taken his opportunity. Pic: SNS

“I was involved in the squads since I was about 18,” recalled Porteous. “I’ve done my rounds by turning up for every camp, training, sitting on the bench and learning from top players and a top manager. When I made my debut, I think it was the right time for me. I made the step down to Watford, I think I’ve progressed, now it’s about trying to do my all and stay fit for every single camp.”

This certainly isn’t the time to be resting on laurels if you are in this Scotland side. No-one dare get carried away, even the Tartan Army are reluctant to predict how far this team might go. All concerned fully intend to hang on for the ride. As they did during Tuesday’s 99-minute delay to clear rain water from the sodden Hampden surface. Georgia at one point refused to restart the game but were then coaxed out of their dressing room by UEFA officials.

“There were 50,000 people in the ground and they wanted to enjoy their day. I think it was about just trying to do what we can do to get the game on,” said Porteous. “That was our message. I think they [Georgia] were a bit different, which is understandable. It’s tough conditions and they were 1-0 down. We are used to playing in the rain, although maybe not that much.”

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The Georgians were clearly rattled when play eventually did resume. “I think that was because of our goal. When the pitch is like that, it’s probably a good opportunity for them to mix it up against us and get at us. I completely understand why they wanted the game off but we got there in the end. I think we probably could have more efforts on goal but the pitch was obviously difficult.

“The manager just wanted us to stay focused and credit to all the staff, from physios to sports scientists, for keeping us ticking over. They got us food at the right times. We eat three hours and 15 minutes before kick-off. When the game gets disrupted for more than an hour, it can have a massive knock-on effect. We tried to carb-up, take carb drinks, eat bananas and things. We’re professional footballers, we know what should go in our bodies and what shouldn’t.”

A key point within the gratifying start to Euro 2024 qualifying is Scotland’s goals-against column. Goalkeeper Angus Gunn has conceded only once, to a disputed Erling Haaland penalty, to underline a deliberate meanness at the back.

“It’s something we have worked on, trying to limit shots on our goal,” explained Porteous. “Even against Spain and Norway, we limited them to one or two shots in the box each. I’m glad the work is paying dividends now.”