Jack Ross blames pundits for perpetuating Ryan Porteous myth as Hibs boss passionately defends player
The previous meeting between Hibs and Rangers prior to Sunday’s Premier Sports Cup semi-final produced one of the most vociferously debated moments of the Scottish football season thus far.
With Hibs leading 1-0 at Ibrox thanks to an early Kevin Nisbet goal and on course to go top of the table, defender Ryan Porteous launched himself into a tackle on Joe Aribo with the Rangers midfielder threatening to break free behind the last line of defence.
While it was debatable as to how much contact had been made, Porteous had certainly gone in at speed and over the top of the ball, which was enough for referee Nick Walsh to brandish a straight red card. Playing out the last 60 minutes with ten men, Hibs succumbed to a 2-1 defeat and subsequently lost their next three as well.
This brought about a wave of criticism which typically comes the way of the 22-year-old whenever he is involved in a flashpoint. A fully-committed style has led to a couple of high-profile red cards in the past and a narrative has grown which paints him as some sort of footballing malcontent who intentionally goes out to injure opponents.
Former Hearts winger Neil McCann even said after the game: “He’s trying to do Joe Aribo there. And that is a switch I’d like to see Ryan remove from his game because he gets himself involved in that. He’s actually a really nice young man but on the pitch, a nasty streak comes out.”
This an image of the youngster which infuriates his manager. Jack Ross previously spoke out in condemnation of the dreadful online abuse Porteous suffered in the wake of the red card, and he blames pundits and the wider media for perpetuating a falsehood about the defender’s character.
Alluding to the fact Porteous suffered more fouls last term than fouls he committed, the Easter Road boss passionately defended his player and stated he has absolutely no fears about starting him in the rematch with Rangers.
"He’s a player who didn’t have a suspension last season, so it isn’t a thing for him. It’s a myth that gets created by people,” said Ross.
“I dealt with it in the dressing room after it happened, some of the garbage he has to put up with. And it was perpetuated by people who were ill-informed, in terms of pundits.
“He is aggressive. He’s a centre-back. But he’s a top centre-back. So I have no qualms about him on Sunday, I wouldn’t have any qualms about him in any game. As I say, his record on discipline is far from poor.
"The deeper conversations we had with him were around some of the stuff he dealt with in the aftermath of the last red card.
“In general terms, I think he knows I trust him – and I have that trust in him to bring the best version of himself on Sunday and in subsequent big games.
“That’s an example of getting better and better, working on the wee deficiencies of his game, which were maybe that ability to make sure you keep a clear head at all times. And that’s not about tackles, I’m just talking about decision making, full stop.”
Porteous has played just once since being sent off in Glasgow, a 3-1 defeat to Celtic at Easter Road, but still found himself among the substitutes at Hampden as Scotland defeated Denmark 2-0 in the final group-stage game of World Cup qualification.
It would seem Steve Clarke is another coach who is able to see through the accusations and appreciate the player’s talents. That’s certainly how his manager in Leith sees it.
“I think it’s the best possible vindication you can get, if you like, of how he’s perceived within the game,” said Ross.
"We have a national team manager who is performing really well at the moment, someone who has earned enormous respect within the game for his coaching credentials. So if somebody of that ilk thinks Ryan is good enough to be called up to his squad, that illustrates where he is – and he’s still a very young man.
“I’ve been very excited by how Ryan has progressed in my time here. I’ve acknowledged the deficiencies in his game that I saw – and he’s still working on them.
“So I was delighted when he was called up and I do think, for the wider population, it maybe was an another indication that he actually is a very good young centre-half.”
One noticeable improvement in the centre-back this season has been his aerial prowess. According to Wyscout, he’s winning balls in the air at a success rate of 70.4 per cent, a significant jump (pun, very much intended) on last season’s 61.2 per cent.
Ross, however, says the refinement in this side of his game hasn’t come from specified coaching, but rather a commitment by the player to get bigger and more athletic.
"I don’t think that’s something we believed was an issue,” said Ross. “People will maybe point towards his stature because he’s not a 6’4’’ centre-back. But there are plenty of big centre-backs who aren’t that good in the air.
“He’s improved his athleticism so he has worked harder, harder and harder on and off the pitch. The numbers he produces for our performance department are much better – and that will have an effect on the stats you mention.
“There are large parts of his all-round game that have improved and will keep on improving.”