Ryan Porteous reveals his debt to Neil Lennon ahead of Celtic v Hibs

Defender recalls his baptism of fire at Ibrox

Saturday, 14th December 2019, 7:30 am
Ryan Porteous. Pic: SNS
Ryan Porteous. Pic: SNS

Ryan Porteous was only 18 when Neil Lennon threw him in at the deep end as part of a makeshift Hibs defence against Rangers at Ibrox.

Tomorrow their paths will cross for the first time since Lennon’s mysterious departure from Easter Road less than two years on, with Porteous on the fringe of the full Scotland squad.

It’s been a rapid rise for the youngster, but one he admits might never have enjoyed had it not been for the Capital club’s then head coach.

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Faced with an injury crisis with Darren McGregor and Paul Hanlon ruled out, Lennon turned to Porteous to partner Efe Ambrose and Lewis Stevenson in a back three, a move which paid off as Hibs ran out 2-1 winners.

The young defender said: “Listen, he was brilliant with me. He gave me an opportunity when I didn’t think I would ever get one. To have such faith in a young boy was something.

“He convinced me that I was ready, when I probably wasn’t. He pulled me into his office on the Thursday and said: ‘Ryan, I’ve got to play you – I’ve got nobody else’.

“But he told me: ‘You’re ready, you’re a man, you’ve been training with the first team, just go and do what you’ve been doing’.

“Fortunately the players in front of me had a brilliant game and made it pretty easy. But he’s that kind of guy who just makes you believe you’re the best player. He was great with me and I have to thank him for what he did.

“Looking back, I should probably have been a lot more nervous that I was. But he does get into your head, he does convince you that you’ll be fine. I think he convinced Efe and Lewis they’d be fine as well. It was an interesting day, it was just him.”

Porteous’ performance that day earned him the man-of-the-match award, one which he claims was probably simply because of his tender years, pointing out that it was his foul which led to Sean Goss cancelling out John McGinn’s first-half opener, only for Jamie Maclaren to claim the winner from the penalty spot two minutes later.

Unbeknown to Porteous at the time, his new head coach Jack Ross had attempted to take him to St Mirren on loan, revealing: “Neil Lennon at that time, I remember, just shelved plans for me to go out. He wanted to keep me for that season. It was a good season for me to develop as a young player. But it’s good to know that he (Ross) wanted me.”

The arrival of Ross has coincided with an upturn in Hibs’ fortunes, the head coach enjoying three wins in his first five matches, results which have lifted his side into the upper half of the table, while Porteous insisted there could have been no better preparation for tomorrow’s trip to Glasgow than the 3-0 demolition of Aberdeen.

He said: “There’s never a good time to play Celtic, but we’re obviously optimistic we can go there and put on a good show. They are a great team, but we have just got to focus on ourselves and do what we can do.”

Porteous’ own displays didn’t go unnoticed by Scotland boss Steve Clarke who, when faced with a number of call-offs, brought the Under-21 cap into his squad for the final Euro 2020 qualifying matches against Cyprus and Kazakhstan last month.

Former Hibs team-mate John McGinn, he admitted, helped calm his nerves, but it was an experience he enjoyed and one he hopes, in time, will become a regular occurrence.

He said: “To get name-dropped by your international manager is a dream come true and then to be called up is even better. But you have to keep your feet on the ground. There was a lot of injuries and when they come back your name might not even be mentioned.

“But if you keep performing consistently at this level and at 21s, then you never know.”