Hibs boss Lee Johnson juggling injuries and Instagram incidents along with match preparation for Aberdeen test
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Ryan Porteous was at the centre of a penalty award, and red card for Liam Scales the last time the two teams met, at Easter Road, and he was the focal point of Dons manager Jim Goodwin’s remarkable post-match outburst in which he accused the Scotland internationalist of cheating, landing himself a bumper ban by the Scottish FA that was only reduced to a more lenient punishment on appeal earlier this week.
The last time he played in AB24 the centre-back was shown a straight red card for a foul on Ross McCrorie, resulting in a three-game ban that was stretched to four when Hibs failed in appeal to overturn the decision. That was before Lee Johnson’s time in the Easter Road hotseat but he is well aware of the attention afforded to Porteous by opposition supporters.
"I think [dealing with hostile crowds] is part of his progression. I don’t know the exact mentality going into the game – I think he's just got to keep on doing what he's been doing: defend the box really well and make sure that outside the box he's showing his class and quality on the ball, with good communication and good decision-making,” Johnson says thoughtfully.
"I think he's performed well. He made a couple of mistakes for the St Johnstone goals which he was big enough and brave enough to hold his hands up and say, 'yep, that was on me' and since then you can't argue with his training standards and therefore he plays against Aberdeen, simple."
We may be approaching pantomime season (oh, yes we are) but there is a distinct feeling that the Porteous sideshow is the least of Johnson’s concerns at this moment in time. If the 23-year-old is taking on the role of the villain in the piece, it’s the condition of swashbuckling hero Martin Boyle that’s at the front of his manager’s mind.
The Australian internationalist limped out of the action midway through the second half of last weekend’s 3-0 victory over St Mirren at Easter Road and has been sent to see a specialist to determine the extent of the damage. With Hibs facing three games before the mid-season break for the 2022 World Cup, and the Socceroos playing their first fixture on November 22 player, club, and country are waiting anxiously for news.
"It’s at the junction point rather than central in the knee,” Johnson explains. “Like the meniscus area. It was Nohan Kenneh who actually went in for the tackle, Martin tried to skip away with the ball but Nohan bundled on him and it collapsed his junction point. So there is bruising where there was contact but also that snap of bone on bone as they hit that area.”
Causing further consternation is the presence of something showing up on the scan that isn’t ‘presenting’ itself. Boyle has had two previous serious injuries but despite that, whatever is visible on the scan doesn’t seem to be causing him any noticeable discomfort.
“It could be something that has potentially been there from the past. If you look at him walking and bouncing around then he seems like he is in a good place but that’s why we have sent him to the specialist,” Johnson continues.
“The candle is still burning. Like I said, we are hopeful but it is still 50-50 until we get a firm prognosis. Of course we hope he is okay for the World Cup. If he has to miss it… well, that's something you wouldn't wish on anybody. But I won't apologise for my first thoughts being Hibs because he is a very, very good player for us and will be sorely missed if he is not in the team. We want him there. He has to be fit, whether that is for Australia or us, and we have a duty of care to the player.”
It might be daunting going into Friday night’s fixture without a talismanic figure such as Boyle. Not only is it fourth versus third, Aberdeen have a game in hand on Hibs and with several clubs still in the mix for third, it adds an extra layer to the encounter. On top of all that, Johnson has been dealing with the fallout from Harry McKirdy’s actions on social media – ‘He’s a bit of a chameleon, you never know which McKirdy is going to turn up on a given day but he’s a good lad, he doesn’t have malice in his body and just wants to be loved by as many people as possible’ – and trying to ensure his squad is in the best possible shape to build on last weekend’s victory.
“It will be a really good challenge. We know they are a really good side because we have already played them. There is no doubt we will have to manage a lot in this game and that is a great test for the lads,” Johnson says.
“We are not going there fearful; we are going there to enjoy it and try to impose our way on a good side. It will be great if we win the game but it won't be the most controversial or surprising result there’s ever been. It’s very tight, there will be loads of twists and turns. It’s about playing the long game, being consistent in our performance and try to find solutions to the bits we think we need to improve on.
“Confidence often comes from preparation. If we get that right and the lads go out and believe in what we have done and trust in each other and they can feel the fans behind them then that's when you get the best opportunities to go and get the best results.”