Ryan Porteous has watched Paul Hanlon work his way through the youth ranks at Easter Road and into the Scotland squad – and now the teenager is determined to follow in his footsteps.
Already marked out as one for the future by Hibs boss Neil Lennon – who described him as “looking like a man” for a second-half performance which helped the Capital outfit to victory against Dundee last Saturday – their fourth successive Premiership win – Porteous makes no secret of the fact he’s been modelling his own game on the central defender.
A life-long Hibs fan, the Scotland Under-19 cap said: “I’ve watched Paul throughout his career because he plays in my position. He came through the youth system here and at the moment he’s playing the best I’ve ever seen from him.
“I’m just trying to replicate exactly what he has done but there’s also Efe Ambrose who has come through a different route, via Celtic and international football with Nigeria, so there’s no better place to learn my trade. Paul’s the model professional, one I want to base my game on, although there are role models throughout the team, John McGinn at just 23, big Marvin Bartley and so on – there’s loads of leaders you can pick and choose to learn from.”
Having enjoyed his first 15 minutes of top-flight action as he replaced Brandon Barker in last Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Kilmarnock, Porteous was given the entire second half against Dundee, replacing club skipper David Gray with the game finely poised at 1-1, Marcus Haber having cancelled out Martin Boyle’s opener scored after just 63 seconds.
And, he revealed, he went on determined not to let anyone down, saying: “I’d been on the bench quite a lot but it was good to get on to the pitch, to contribute and get the win.
“I was told at half-time to keep warm, then Vicky [Lithuanian internationalist Vykintas Slivka] and me were told we’d be going on. The gaffer told me just to play my own game and I thought I did quite well.
“Obviously he’d seen me against Killie and felt I’d be okay so I have to thank him for having that faith in me. You’d rather play in a winning team than one that is losing – that’s obvious – but it definitely helps playing with players who are confident and will trust you because you are training with them every single day. But when you get on the pitch you don’t want to let them down.
“They’d won three on the trot and I didn’t want to come on and see us lose that run.
“I don’t think the club has had four wins on the trot in the big league in years so it’s a good position to be in. The manager stresses winning and winning and that’s rubbed off on the players. You could see there was a bit of fatigue there so he’s tried to get some more legs, a bit more energy, into the team in different positions, changed the formation, changed personnel – it paid dividends.”
However, conceded Porteous, Hibs had goalkeeper Ofir Marciano to thank, the Israeli internationalist pulling off an unbelievable save to prevent Dundee’s Faissal El Bakhtaoui putting the Dens Park outfit ahead having done likewise at Rugby Park to stop Kris Boyd equalising for Killie.
He said: “If Boyd had scored Killie might have won the game, same on Saturday. Ofir has possibly not had the best start to the season, he probably knows that himself.
“But he has come on unbelievably and he’s done brilliantly in the last two games. Saves like that just deflate the opposition when they’ve done everything then can’t beat our goalkeeper.”
Porteous acknowledged that Hibs’ growing injury problems – Dylan McGeouch, Gray and Barker joining Darren McGregor, Liam Fontaine, Danny Swanson and Steven Whittaker on the casualty list – had given him his opportunity and recognised that by the time Lennon’s players face St Johnstone after this weekend’s international break the squad should look in a much healthier state, but one which would again push him down the pecking order.
He said: “That’s football, injuries come every single week. It’s a bad thing to say but, lucky for me, a number of them have come in my position and I’ve had to take my chance which I feel I have.
“I’d love to be playing again this weekend but the break has probably come at the right time for everyone having had five tough games in such a short period of time.
“I’m sure the boys will come back raring to go and hopefully we’ll have some of the injured guys ready to return. If we are winning four games on the bounce with so many out injured then there’s no reason why we can’t continue that when the full squad is in contention for places.”
And like Lennon, Porteous believes the backing of the Easter Road support helped pull the players through to victory, Simon Murray clinching the three points with his 13th goal of the game.
He said: “It was one of those games, really hard fought, but the fans are turning out in terrific numbers and they are creating a brilliant atmosphere everyone wants to play in.”