Nohan Kenneh talks international ambitions, Ryan Porteous' Scotland debut and increased competition in Hibs midfield
Seeing team-mate Ryan Porteous make himself a hero for Scotland has only strengthened Nohan Kenneh’s desire to hit a personal milestone at the next international break.
The Hibs midfielder has represented England at various youth levels, including under-18s. He didn’t, however, get a call to play for the under-19s and, due to turn 20 years of age in January, his chance of featuring at that age group are now likely gone. That said, there is the not-so-insignificant matter of the under-20s World Cup next year in Indonesia, a 24-team tournament where Ian Foster’s side have already qualified.
Operating in under-23s football for Leeds United wasn’t enough to satisfy Kenneh’s drive to play regular, competitive top-flight football and it likely hindered his chances of international recognition. He wanted to both test and better himself by moving to Easter Road and has been rewarded by playing the majority of games thus far.
After seeing Porteous excel in Scotland colours and take the adulation from fans and critics alike, Kenneh knows his decision to move north of the border and give himself a platform to impress has been validated.
"Ryan has been really good for Hibs this season and he deserved his spot in the Scotland squad and you saw the performance he put in, he was amazing,” said Porteous’ club mate.
"That's my aim, to try to get into the England team. It's the right time for me and it's about improving myself each game and showing that I'm ready for the step up.”
On what it’s like to share a dressing room with the Scotland debutant, he added: “He's a funny guy. On the outside he speaks nonsense! But he's a down-to-earth guy. On the pitch he's competitive, he wants to win like any other player.
"It was a good performance from him on Tuesday night and considering it was his first game for Scotland, he did a lot of stuff that was pleasing to see. He's capable of playing at that level."
While there has been many variations of the Hibs midfield three so far this season, it has been settled in the last couple of games with Kenneh playing the sitting role just behind Joe Newell with the goalscoring Josh Campbell in front of them. Hibs won both of those contests, a 1-0 win over Kilmarnock and 3-1 triumph against Aberdeen, so it bodes well for the youngster remaining in the team.
There is one caveat in the form of the returning Kyle Magennis. The former St Mirren midfielder has been missing since last September through injury but is back in full training and could feature in today’s match against Ross County in Dingwall.
Should he display the kind of form which saw him excel in the first 13 matches of last term before his fitness issues, Magennis would surely demand a place in the side. What that means for the other three remains to be seen, but Kenneh welcomes the challenge.
"It means more competition for places, everyone's trying to be safe in their spot but every training session should be a competitive environment,” he said. "That's what I want. I don't want to be safe. I don't want anything to be guaranteed so the injured boys coming back will only increase competition. No one's place is guaranteed and the gaffer has his reasons for changing the team.
"As a player, you obviously want to play every game, you're never happy sitting on the bench. For me it's about proving to the manager that I can play every game and showing on the training pitch that I'm ready."
For Hibs it’s about keeping the momentum going and making it three consecutive victories in a row, while also proving to themselves and any doubters that the previous two results were won thanks to ability rather than each of their opponents having a man sent off before Johnson’s side netted their first goal.
The Global Energy Stadium has been a fairly happy hunting ground for the Hibees in recent years. They went seven matches unbeaten until the streak was halted last term with a 1-0 defeat in the midweek following the famous 3-1 triumph over Rangers in the Premier Sports Cup semi-final.
The Staggies were tipped to follow up the success of last season, where they rebounded from a ten-game winless start to make the top six, particularly after impressing in a narrow opening-day defeat to Hearts at Tynecastle. But Malky Mackay’s side have found results difficult to come by so far, currently sitting in tenth place with one victory from their opening seven games.
But Hibs know taking their hosts for granted will be at their peril. With a further three contests against bottom-six sides in the four matches following the trip to the Highlands, Kenneh and his team-mates know it’s the ideal time to keep the winning feeling going as they seek to underline their credentials as strong European contenders.
"I think it will be physical, like any other Scottish game. Intense. We've got to go out and play our game and try to be more positive like we were against Aberdeen. It's about getting the three points,” he said.
"It was massive to get three points before the international break, it should give us more confidence going into this game. Maybe the break came at the wrong time but we can't stop it, we can only control what's ahead of us."