Ryan Porteous reveals Steve Clarke message as Shaun Maloney backs up Scotland boss
Did he look happy? He certainly did. Ryan Porteous couldn’t wipe the big smile from his face after his outstanding Scotland debut. Rightly so.
There were doubters aplenty. Some didn’t think he was good enough. Others feared he was an accident waiting to happen. The Hibs centre-back proved them all wrong with an assured performance which had the critics eating their words. Just the way he likes it.
“When called upon I wanted to be ready,” said Porteous, selected after injuries ruled Grant Hanley, Liam Cooper, John Souttar, Scott McKenna and Kieran Tierney out of the Nations League Group B1 decider against Ukraine in Krakow. “I think I was ready.”
Asked after the match what manager Steve Clarke said to him in the dressing room, Porteous was hesitant for the first time all night before revealing: “He just maybe said that will show a few people. We came here to do a job and I’m buzzing to play my part.”
Asked to clarify if Clarke was referring to lack of belief in him or the team, Porteous replied: “I think it was more in me, but I’m big enough to take that. I never doubted myself and the manager has never doubted me.”
Porteous hadn’t played with Jack Hendry before and the pair didn’t have much time to prepare following Saturday’s victory over the Republic of Ireland at Hampden, but the partnership stood up to the challenge and answered the questions posed by the Ukrainian attack. With full-backs Aaron Hickey and Greg Taylor also starting due to injuries, it made for a relatively inexperienced and untested back four at international level, albeit one backed up by veteran Hearts goalkeeper Craig Gordon.
John McGinn admitted that the back-four selection “probably raised a few eyebrows” but the Scotland skipper was impressed. “Fair play to the four of them,” said the former Hibs midfielder. “They were absolutely outstanding and without them we wouldn’t be through.”
Former Hearts full-back Hickey delivered his best Scotland performance to date on the right, providing the team’s most productive attacking outlet in the first half and using his pace to defend effectively. But it was the performance of Porteous – picked to start ahead of St Mirren’s Declan Gallagher – that was the main talking point.
Porteous is often a talking point at Hibs, the latest incident coming just before the international break at Easter Road when he was accused by Aberdeen boss Jim Goodwin of “blatant cheating” for winning a penalty. Former referees waded with their say on a podcast.
The fallout that followed was handled adroitly by Clarke, who had already named Porteous in his squad by that point and emphasised that he would only judge him on “what he does for us, how he trains for us, how he works for us when he gets his chance to play”.
Judged on that basis, Porteous was a rock for Scotland against Ukraine. Aggressive when needed, brave when it was required, he was also composed and slick in possession.
Michael Stewart, the former Hearts and Hibs midfielder who was the match analyst for Premier Sports, imparted his view that Porteous has “all the attributes” to be a top player but is prone to “lapses in concentration” which can blot his copybook.
The fact that the match in Krakow, however, was out of his Hibs comfort zone eliminated the risk that he would take his eye off the ball or try something daft. It wasn’t a night for that.
It was his Scotland debut in a stadium he hadn’t played in before, against a striker he hadn’t played against. He was lining up in a makeshift back four he hadn’t played with before after little time to prepare on the training ground, and it was a hugely important match.
So the 23-year-old got in the zone and focused on doing the basics well – while continuing to play with his usual levels of composure and self-confidence. “Porteous was outstanding for a debut,” said Clarke. “So pleased for the boy, shows that he listens and that he learns.”
That was perhaps a reference to comments to the contrary made by Steven Gerrard when he was Rangers boss. He doesn’t learn, was Gerrard’s take on Porteous after a red card tackle at Ibrox a year ago.
Shaun Maloney, who worked with him during his short spell in charge of Hibs, believes Porteous does listen and learn. He explained how much he has improved over the last 12 months.
“I’ve got no doubts about Ryan,” said the former Hibs boss. “He’s a brilliant person. He’s brilliant to train. The manager said he listens and learns. It is completely true. He’s a fantastic player.
“Before I went in and worked with him you could definitely see weaknesses in his game. When you actually work with him you actually see how good he can be.
“Technically, on the ball, he’s at a really high level and he wants to listen and learn if you ask him to defend in different ways. Normally he was just always man marking. Now, he understands zonal defending. He understands the defensive line. The improvement he has made over the last 12 months in a massive credit to him.”
Neil McCann acknowledged that there “would have been a lot of question marks” about picking Porteous over Gallagher, who has more international experience, but described it as a “brave decision” by the Scotland boss.
“He was a lion,” the former Hearts and Scotland winger said of Porteous. “As a partnership, Porteous and Hendry had no time to work. They have probably been on the training field together as a partnership maybe a couple of times. A lot of that work would have been done in a room, so to take that information on board was very good and it shows that Ryan is a good listener.
“There’s a lot said about Ryan Porteous. Yes, he has this emotion that sometimes takes over in his game and he makes rash challenges and rash decisions. But I like the kid. He’s a good player. He proved at international level that he does not look out of place.”