Ryan Porteous is hoping he has done enough to retain his place in Hibs’ defence even though senior centre-back Darren McGregor is closing in on a return from injury.
The 19-year-old has started each of the Easter Road side’s past seven competitive matches since stepping in to replace the veteran after he suffered bruising to his knee late in the Europa League draw away to Greek side Asteras Tripolis at the start of August.
McGregor was part of a dependable three-man central defence alongside Efe Ambrose and Paul Hanlon as Hibs excelled in the second half of last season, and the 33-year-old is hoping to prove his fitness in time for Saturday’s Premiership match at home to Kilmarnock.
Porteous is well aware that the former St Mirren and Rangers defender is pushing for a return and now faces an anxious few days before learning if he will remain in the starting XI as manager Neil Lennon prepares to make changes following a 2-1 defeat at Livingston a week past Saturday.
“I hope I can keep my place when Daz is back, but at the same time Daz, Efe and Paul have got a good partnership with each other,” Porteous said. “It’s just a case of whatever the gaffer feels is better for the team.”
Regardless of whether or not McGregor takes his place in the team, Porteous is full of respect for a man he views as a mentor. Porteous admires his colleague’s old-school defensive qualities and is grateful for the advice he has shared with him over the past few years.
“Daz is a great defender, he’s helped me an unreal amount over the last couple of years,” explained Porteous. “Even when he’s been injured, he’s been talking me through games afterwards and showing me points I can improve on. It’s been really unselfish of him because obviously if he helps me too much, it could end up costing him his position. He’s a great guy. He’s the type of defender I admired when I was growing up. Like him, my aggression, and my will to keep a clean sheet, are probably my key attributes.”
Porteous is relishing every minute of learning his trade from some of the most highly-regarded centre-backs in Scotland. “I’ve said it before but there’s not many better places than Hibs at the moment to be coming through as a young centre-back because you’ve got Efe, Daz and Paul to learn from,” he said.
“I try and take a bit from all three of them. Efe’s his own player. I’ve never seen anyone like him. He can single-handedly drive you forward. I don’t think I’m at that stage yet so I’m looking to try and get a mix between Daz and Paul just now. Paul can play out but he doesn’t take quite as many risks as Efe. He can play all across the back four and in midfield as well – he’s a great player.”
Porteous is fast becoming a favourite of the fans at Easter Road, with the academy graduate’s committed approach endearing him to his fellow Hibs supporters.
“The fans seem to have really taken to me, which is great,” he said. “Part of that’s probably because I’m a Hibs fan as well but hopefully it’s also because they like the way I play and see that I give my all for the jersey.”
Porteous’s most consistent run of games in the first team has coincided with a difficult period for Hibs as they have juggled summer Europa League qualifiers with the start of the domestic campaign while simultaneously rebuilding the squad following the departure of some key players. A creditable run to the third qualifying round of the Europa League was followed by a respectable opening to the league campaign and progress to the last eight of the Betfred Cup.
However, the shock defeat at Livingston before the international break has served to cast Hibs’ start to the season in a negative light.
“It’s been a hectic couple of months with Europe and with losing some big players like John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch,” said Porteous, currently in Holland with the Scotland Under-21s. “But we’ve got to move on from that. We’ve recruited well so there’s no reason the new boys can’t do themselves justice. We’ve started relatively well considering we’ve been in Europe but we need to pick up more points because five points from four games isn’t good enough.
“I was bitterly disappointed that we didn’t win at Livingston but credit to them, they stuck to their gameplan and did well. It was poor defensively and wasn’t good enough from us. Sometimes after a defeat you hide yourself away a bit but there was no hiding place for me, I was straight in to meet up with the Under-21s the day after the game. Hopefully we can get back at it this weekend and start picking up more points.”
The visit or Killie pits Hibs against a side buoyed by a 2-0 win at Pittodrie in their last outing. “Kilmarnock is another tough game,” said Porteous. “They’re on the back of winning at Aberdeen so they’ll have had a confident two weeks of training.
“It’ll be a difficult test for us but hopefully we’ll have four or five players back for it and the gaffer will have had a chance to iron out some of the silly mistakes and get us back to looking more like ourselves.”