Ryan Porteous and Hibs Under-20s driven on by last season’s pain

Hibs Under-20s' Ryan Porteous is looking forward to playing Celtic in the Youth Cup semi-final at Easter Road tomorrow night. Pic: SNS
Hibs Under-20s' Ryan Porteous is looking forward to playing Celtic in the Youth Cup semi-final at Easter Road tomorrow night. Pic: SNS
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Ryan Porteous believes the bitter memory of last season will help drive Hibs Under-20s to a league and cup double.

Having headed the SPFL Development League for much of the campaign, the Easter Road youngsters let the title slip through their fingers.

Today the kids find themselves in exactly the same position, two games to go and ahead by a point, while tomorrow night’s SFA Youth Cup semi-final against Celtic will give them the chance to exact revenge after the Glasgow side knocked them out of the competition a year ago.

Porteous revealed coach Grant Murray had asked him and his team-mates to think back to how they’d felt as he prepared to send them out to face Falkirk on Monday night, Dundee’s win over Aberdeen earlier in the day having knocked them off the top of the table.

However, it proved to be only a temporary fall, goals from Porteous and Danny Swanson easing them to a 2-1 victory and giving them a spring in their step ahead of the visit of Celtic to Easter Road.

He said: “The experience of last season will definitely stand us in good stead for the final few games of the season. Grant reminded us of how bad it was last year when we’d gone 2-0 down after 20 minutes against Ross County and the league was over and telling us not to do the same again, only for us to lose a goal in the first ten minutes against Falkirk.

“But we managed to get it together and in the end it was a comfortable win. We’ve been on a good run, I think we’ve only lost once or twice since the turn of the year so, as our league position shows, we have been playing well.

“We’ve got two big games left but we know it is in our own hands. Win them both and we take the title.”

League business, though, will be put to one side as Porteous and Co take on Celtic, one step away from facing Aberdeen in the Youth Cup final at Hampden.

The 19-year-old defender said: “We lost 1-0 to Celtic at Oriam, they scored from a long throw, that’s all there was in the game. These matches take care of themselves. Celtic probably have an outside chance of the league, but possibly the cup represents their last chance of winning something this season.

“They have good players, I know a few of them from having been away with Scotland. They’re a good bunch of lads. I think it would be disappointing for them if they didn’t because they are always there or thereabouts, but we’ll be trying our hardest to make sure they don’t.

“We also have a strong team, we’ve beaten them in the league and we drew 1-1 recently despite the fact we played all but the first three minutes of the match with only ten men.”

But for the weather the semi-final would already have been played, a water-logged pitch at Hibs East Mains training centre forcing a postponement and, as far as Porteous is concerned, the bonus of having such a match played under the lights at Easter Road.

It is, of course, an experience he has enjoyed with both him and striker Oli Shaw very much part of Hibs boss Neil Lennon’s first-team plans, but one which will be something knew to the younger members of the Under-20s.

And with Hibs idle this weekend, Porteous has his fingers crossed more than a few might be tempted to come along to back the club’s next generation. He said: “There’s nothing better than a night game under the lights, something for the boys who haven’t played in such circumstances to enjoy and something that will stand them in good stead in the future.

“It won’t quite be like a first team game with 18,000 or whatever there, but hopefully we’ll get a healthy crowd. We have a couple of hundred for our previous ties against East Kilbride and Morton, but I’d like to think there will be quite a few more.”

While clubs are allowed to play a limited number of first-team players in development league games, the Youth Cup is strictly limited to those born on or after January 1, 1998, a rule very much welcomed by Porteous.

He said: “In the development league you often don’t quite know who you might be playing against. There are quite a lot of clubs who will play first-team players looking for the result. I know Marvin Bartley and Danny played the other night, but that’s something of an exception as far as we are concerned.

“I think we’ve only had first-team players involved four or five times all season and it’s not to get the result but because the gaffer wants those individuals to get a bit of match sharpness or fitness.

“However, when they are involved they are, as you would expect, real pros. Their attitude is brilliant and they want to win as much as ever.”

As far as Porteous, Shaw and, to a lesser extent midfielder Fraser Murray are concerned, it’s perhaps a case of role reversal with the youngsters having been forced to miss development games for a seat on Lennon’s bench.

Admitting it can be frustrating at times to find himself an unused substitute when he might have been playing at the lower level, Porteous insisted he can see the bigger picture.

He said: “There’s been a few games Oli and I have not been involved in and the boys have come up with the result which is a credit to our squad. It’s all about the first team and if the gaffer needs us to be on the bench then that’s where we will be.

“Look at the weekend, Oli came off the bench to score and get us a great point at Ross County that keeps us in touching distance of second place. It might be a touch frustrating at times, but you have to be patient, the gaffer knows what’s best.”

However, with the first team idle this weekend, Porteous and Shaw have been handed the opportunity to rejoin their younger team-mates. Porteous, who was named the Hibs Supporters’ Association young player of the year this week, said: “We are all the best of mates, we have been together for five or six years coming through the academy and being back training and playing with the guys has been really enjoyable.”

While all focus in on tomorrow’s cup clash, attention thereafter will quickly shift to Monday’s development league match against Aberdeen with the Dons still in with chance of making a late run for the title but knowing they have to win all three of their remaining games.

Hibs’ final match will be against Motherwell while Dundee, only a point behind, finish their campaign playing Hearts and then St Mirren.

Porteous said: “It’s all very tight and could go one of a few different ways. Hopefully Hearts could do us a bit of a favour but, to be honest, we can’t rely on other teams. We need to go out and do it for ourselves.”

Tomorrow night’s match kicks off at 7pm. Fans will be housed in the lower tier of the west stand and admission is £6 (adults), £3 (concessions).