Steven Whittaker may barely be in the door as he begins a second stint at Easter Road, but he’s already playing his part in lending his experience to Neil Lennon’s young players.
First time round at Hibs, Whittaker was one of that much vaunted “golden generation” which lit up Scottish football and, revealed teenage defender Ryan Porteous, one of his heroes back then.
Porteous was a kid in the Hampden crowd when the Capital side lifted the CIS Insurance Cup in 2007, hammering Kilmarnock 5-1 and now, he revealed, he’s ready to lean heavily on the 33-year-old’s advice.
Hibs-daft Porteous said: “Steven has been in the training centre and was good to have around. He’ll be good for everyone I think. He’s good with all the young boys – he knows all our names even though he’s only been in for a week.
“He’ll be good to us and he’s a top-quality guy to have around the changing room. I’d never met him, but he’s different class to have about.
“That team [in 2007] was so good back then. I remember being at the cup final and all the games leading up to it. Steven is a true professional in everything he’s done, so you have to model your performance on someone like him.
“It’s the same as watching Lewis Stevenson for years. To go and play alongside him was brilliant, a dream come true.”
Stevenson, like Whittaker, was part of the side which lifted Hibs’ first silverware in 16 years in 2007 and 18-year-old Porteous believes having players who have come through the system at Easter Road can only help today’s wannabes.
He said: “They probably know what we are going through at the moment and it can be hard, but having a first-team player to guide you through makes a big difference.”
As he sat high in Easter Road’s main stand on Saturday only hours after it was revealed he was returning to Hibs on a three-year contract, memories of his own days of breaking through into the first team no doubt came flooding back as he watched Porteous and teenage midfielder Fraser Murray turn in impressive performances as Neil Lennon’s players swept to an easy 4-0 Betfred Cup Group D victory over Montrose.
While Porteous, who caught the eye throughout pre-season, was composed and assured in a back-three alongside Darren McGregor and Liam Fontaine, Fraser Murray earned himself the accolade of man-of-the-match with his movement, vision and range of passing in the middle of the park.
Such was the Edinburgh side’s dominance in the first period, League Two Montrose rarely set foot outside their own half, Simon Murray nodding home Lewis Stevenson’s cross before exchanging passes with his namesake Fraser to allow him to coolly slot the ball home.
Simon Murray made it three with another header – Lennon noting it was “a novelty” for his side to score two in such fashion – and substitute Brian Graham knocked home a fourth from the penalty spot late on.
The only moment of worry in the entire 90 minutes came at the start of the second half, Andy Steeves’ ball finding Gary Fraser ghosting in behind the home defence, only to meekly side-foot wide.
“I was very happy with that,” admitted Lennon. “It was professionally done. We won’t learn much from the game. I didn’t think we would, but they’ve got another 90 minutes into their legs and hopefully we’ll be a week fitter before we face Ross County on Friday night.”
Surprisingly, Porteous admitted he’d been more nervous before facing part-time Montrose than he had been six days earlier when he’d been given half-an-hour in Stevenson’s testimonial match against Sunderland.
Porteous, who spent last season on loan at Edinburgh City, said: “I think it was because it was my competitive debut although Sunderland was a harder test. It was a dream come true to make my debut for Hibs because I’ve grown up as a fan.
“I had my family in the stands. I found out the day before there was a chance I’d be playing so I never got much sleep. I was buzzing.
“I wasn’t sure it [my debut] would come this season because of the number of centre halves we have here, but injuries and circumstances have led to me getting an opportunity.
“It was a great help to have the experienced boys alongside me, that made things a lot easier. Hopefully I made a positive impression; long may it continue.”
Although Lennon, having made Whittaker his fifth signing of the summer, intends to add further new faces to his squad – strengthening his strikeforce being a priority – Porteous believes his manager is prepared to give youngsters their chance.
He said: “A few of the younger boys are doing so well. Maybe in the past managers here haven’t given players an opportunity. Maybe the right players weren’t here, I don’t know.
“Now the manager has shown a bit of faith in the young players and it’s paying off. We can only thank him because it would be easy to mix up the formations or put players in unnatural positions instead of giving younger players a game.
“He hasn’t done that. Starting the likes of me and Fraser and involving Oli Shaw shows he’s got faith and will hopefully help push us on to the next level.”
While Porteous could be happy with his day’s work, he admitted he has to improve his decision-making as he recalled one mis-timed tackle, conceding it was one he didn’t have to make.
“I’ve put in worse tackles,” he revealed, “It’s in my game and I don’t think I should lose that completely. If I’d got the ball everyone would have loved it. If you miss it then it’s a booking or a red card.
“I maybe have to learn not to be so rash at times, but I wouldn’t want to take it out of my game completely. I caught one of Sunderland’s younger players and I was maybe lucky to come away from that with only a wee injury.
“If it had been on a more experienced player they might have lifted their boot to catch me. I’m a bit rash and have to control that.”
However, as much as he has impressed, Porteous conceded it will be difficult to nail down a place once Paul Hanlon and Efe Ambrose are again in Lennon’s thoughts. Another loan spell, with Dumbarton apparently his most likely destination, has been mentioned, but Porteous said: “I’ll just wait until the manager decides what to do.
“He’s given me a start so I am obviously on his mind, but the quality we have that didn’t even make this games shows you the strength and depth we have in this position, so I think it will be hard for me.”