Darren McGregor has claimed there’s no better central defender in Scotland than Hibs kid Ryan Porteous.
The youngster has been getting rave reviews as the Easter Road side recovered from a slump to go four matches unbeaten including matches against Celtic and Rangers, with Neil Lennon’s men meeting the latter again at Ibrox today.
McGregor describes himself as his team-mate’s “biggest fan” and believes Porteous is destined for the very top of the game, insisting the rash streak which provoked the ire of Gers boss Steven Gerrard last week for a reckless tackle on Lassana Coulibaly will pass as he gains experience.
“I think Ryan has been phenomenal,” said McGregor. “But he takes it in his stride. We forget he’s only 19. At that age, I was kicking people down the Links for Leith Athletic and this guy is playing week in, week out against top opposition, two clean sheets back-to-back against the Old Firm.
“We all agree sometimes he is a wee bit rash but you have to take that with a pinch of salt. To a certain extent, you’d rather have him over aggressive than under aggressive. I think he goes into every tackle wanting to win the ball, there’s no intent to go in to hurt a guy. For me, the other night a bit of tiredness has perhaps crept in and he’s mis-timed it. There was no intent. You don’t want to take that aggressiveness out of his game but the rashness he maybe has to dial that down a bit.
“He knows more than anyone but, sometimes in the throes of a game, you get a rush of blood. You think you can win it, you go in full tilt, you miss it, the other player gets there before you and it looks like a bad tackle.
“The fans love to see that aggressive nature, a slide tackle. Obviously, within the confines of the game it has to be controlled aggression. If he can slide in and win the ball he will. The fans love that.
“But I’ve said to him before games to pick and choose his moments. If it is there to be won, he’ll win it. Sometimes he’ll take the player with him but, again, the intent is to win the ball, not hurt the player so I am with him on that.
“Even the guys in the opposition, if it’s a good tackle they’ll just jump back up.
“But speak to him off the park he’s such a humble guy, a nice guy as well.” McGregor admits Porteous, who has only 21 Premiership matches to his name, still has “a bit to go”, but he’s convinced the youngster will become a big star in the not too distant future.
He said: “Ryan ticks all the boxes for me, his composure, his ability on the ball, his strength at set-pieces, his heading ability. He will go levels above this with the progress I have seen even in this season and with the help he gets from everyone behind the scenes as well.
“He also comes up with a goal. I think he’s scored more this season than I have in the last five years. He’s an attacking threat, good on the ball, composed. You keep ticking the boxes as to what you want in a good centre half and he has them all.
“He’s 19. In years gone by, you might have had to be in your mid-20s before you’d break into a team in central defence.”
Porteous already has eight Scotland Under-21 caps to his name to go with the seven won at Under-19 level but, insisted McGregor no-one should be surprised if national coach Alex McLeish comes calling.
He said: “I don’t want to put him on too high a pedestal but, for me, there’s not many better centre halves in Scotland. You’ve got [Scott] McKenna at Aberdeen, I like him, while John Souttar is out injured at the minute. Ryan is definitely up there.”