Ryan Porteous may have caught just about everyone inside Ibrox by surprise as he marked his Premiership debut with a man-of-the-match performance as Hibs beat Rangers on their own turf for the second time this season.
But goalkeeper Ofir Marciano, the one man who may have been just a little worried at having a 18-year-old as part of a make-shift back three in front of him, insisted he had every faith in the rookie defender.
Porteous was drafted in after both Darren McGregor and Paul Hanlon were ruled out through injury, the youngster all but unknown outwith Easter Road but the name on everyone’s lips after turning in a five-star display in his side’s 2-1 win.
Yes, there was the mistake which led to the free-kick from which Sean Goss cancelled out John McGinn’s first half opener, but it was Porteous who threw himself in to secure the victory, denying Ross Martin what looked like a certain second equaliser for the Govan outfit in the dying seconds of the game.
Porteous rightly earned himself rave reviews, not least from Hibs boss Neil Lennon but, insisted Marciano, there were never any doubts as to whether he could handle the red-hot atmosphere created by a near 50,000 crowd.
“I was not at all surprised by Ryan’s performance because I’ve seen him training and I’ve played with him a few times,” said the Israeli internationalist.
“We know he is a talented boy but, most importantly, he is a fighter, he isn’t afraid to play. He is mature for his age and that’s great to see.
“I was happy to be playing behind him and trying to make his game a bit easier. Darren and Paul are amazing defenders so Ryan has been a young lad who has had to be patient and wait for his chance.
“There were no worries about him even at a place like Ibrox. You have to start playing at some point but I didn’t have any fears for him because I know he is capable and he showed it.
“He’s a brave boy, he put his body on the line a couple of times and played well.”
Marciano, too, played his part in what was a terrific team performance from Hibs, the 28-year-old continuing his recent run of producing breathtaking saves by pulling off a double stop from Josh Windass and Jamie Murphy before tipping a point-blank header from Daniel Candeias over the bar.
And he came agonisingly close to keeping out Goss’ free-kick, getting the slightest of touches to deflect the ball on to the bar only for it to spin inches over the line.
Lennon had been among Marciano’s critics earlier in the season, angry with goals he had conceded against both Motherwell and Rangers but he was left singing his praises this time round.
The Hibs boss said: “Ofir was very unlucky with their goal. Fatigue was kicking in with this being our fifth game in 13 days, we were giving the ball away, inviting pressure.
“That’s when you need your goalkeeper. I had a little dig at him earlier in the season but he’s in unbelievable form. He’s turned his season round and is one of the main reasons we are on this run at the minute.”
If he was hurt by those harsh words of a few months ago Marciano wasn’t one for admitting to it, saying: “I had slips here and there, every goalkeeper has that. Now I feel good, I was happy with my performances and I know I have to do it constantly to reach the places I want to be.”
One such place is to win his place back in Israel’s national squad with, he admitted, half an eye on the 2018 UEFA Nations League which sees his country facing Scotland.
There’s already been a bit of banter in the Easter Road dressing-room between Marciano and his team-mates, the goalkeeper adding: “It will be interesting.
“The best thing is to represent your country and I have done that many times. I have to be patient, and, first of all, do my very best for Hibs, keep the good performances going, be patient and hopefully everything will be fine.”
Like his team-mates Marciano is enjoying a few days off following their punishing schedule but, he agreed, it’s time they can enjoy having won three out of four league games to keep a firm grip on fourth place in the table.
He said: “As a club that’s come up from the Championship we’ve just been trying to do the best we can and finish as high as we can. But to beat Rangers twice at Ibrox and to draw with Celtic twice says a lot about the group we have. You can see we are a good side, we’ve lots of personalities, leaders, fighters.
“We’re disappointed because we could have taken more points. In most of our games we have been better than our opponents but now we have to focus on the games ahead.”
Marciano insisted that determination was underlined by the way Hibs immediately hit back after Goss’ equaliser, with midfielder Scott Allan winning a penalty then converted by Jamie Maclaren.
He said: “I thought I was really unlucky with the free-kick – it could have been a great save. However, it was important to score quickly after that and we were delighted to do that.
“One of the most important aspects of football is momentum especially when you are playing away from home in front of big crowds. You could sense they were going to come for us with their fans giving them a big push so to score again right away was vital for us. It was great to see Jamie score his first goal for Hibs.”