Tensions that have been burning for a number of years flared up again at Ibrox on Sunday when a Ryan Porteous red card helped facilitate a 2-1 home victory.
It presented Rangers boss Steven Gerrard with the opportunity to have another swipe at the young Hibs defender, who successfully wheedled his way under his rivals’ skin a long time ago and has long-since been cast as the pantomime villain by everyone at the Govan club.
Which is probably why the reaction to the challenge has been far more over the top than any challenge made by the whole-hearted 22-year-old, who has been backed by one of his predecessors in the heart of the Hibs backline, John Hughes.
On first viewing he says he did not think that the 30th minute tackle on Joe Aribo merited anything more than a yellow card and can understand why Hibs are appealing referee Nick Walsh’s decision. But, having reexamined the footage, he amended his opinion.
“I know he likes to be competitive but it is a learning process. At first I said it was a yellow but once I looked at it again and saw the studs and the speed he went in, you cannot tackle like that these days and get away with it,” Hughes said. “Back in my day, you could go flying in and leave a wee bit on people, it was all part and parcel of the game. But the game’s changing.
“He is getting better every time I see him. He has a big, big future but he has to realise that you can’t go to ground and tackle like that.
“He will know he has let his team-mates down but, look, I really like the kid. I think he has a big, big future in the game and every time I see him he is improving, so I don’t agree with Steven Gerrard making out he hasn’t learned his lessons, I think he has been learning and the stats back that up.”
Porteous made his first league start against Rangers back in February 2018, in a game Hibs won 2-1. He drew the following head-to-head, lost the next and then there was another stalemate. Still working to harness his competitive edge, there was, undoubtedly, a rashness to his game back then and he picked up yellows in three of those first four encounters and a red in the other. Since then, though, he has shown restraint and maturity in the way he has handled being singled out for criticism from the Rangers manager, and players, who have been irked by his unwillingness to back down. He has bullishly played them at their own game when it comes to press conference gamesmanship, laughed off criticism, failed to take the bait when stamped on by Alfredo Morelos, and rarely backed down when subjected to verbals.
He has puffed out his chest and gone out to win every game, undaunted by reputations. Prior to the weekend, in the three more recent Rangers tussles, he did not pick up a caution, despite provocation, and throughout last season’s league campaign, he received just five yellow cards. Hardly the resume of the ‘wild’ street thug, the Rangers boss seems to see him as, or certainly tends to portray him as.
“I don’t think it is right to point the finger at him,” said Hughes, who would love to see the centre-back stick around long enough to assume the captaincy at Hibs. “I think that is the reputation he earned when he first broke through. He got a few bookings and red cards and was full-committed and maybe took it a bit too far at times but he’s not the same player now.
“I think his discipline has been very, very good and, yes, there are things he still has to work on and it probably won’t be the last time he is sent off, but I think if you look at the stats or watch him play, you can see he has been working on it.
“He is getting better every season, he is better on the ball and passing the ball, and his decision-making is improving.
“He has a competitive nature and the way he plays the game he wants to win everything; every tackle, every game. It is just a case of calming it down a wee bit but for those having a go, who say he has to start learning from this, they need to look closer because he is learning. He just needs to make sure he doesn’t allow Rangers to wind him up.”
The fact that they even try to ruffle his feathers, is a sign that he is doing the same to them.
If he was an insignificant player, they won’t waste the energy getting so riled, according to Hughes.
“They are trying to do anything to get an edge and he has to just ignore it. It’s part and parcel of football but you only do it to players you think are a threat.
“As I said, it was a red card but people are getting a bit carried away. I know a lot of people are having a go but I’m backing Ryan and, as a Hibs fan, I am so proud that Hibs spoke up and backed him. There are worse tackles but look at the reaction...I think part of it is the likes of Rangers and Celtic don’t like it when teams turn up at Ibrox or Parkhead and don’t back down. They aren’t used to people having a go. They don’t like it. That’s why a player like Ryan ruffles feathers. So my message is: don’t change too much.”