Ryan Porteous takes centre stage once again as second-half Rangers salvo ends Hibs unbeaten run
It was a decade ago this month that Mario Balotelli scored a goal for Manchester City before revealing a t-shirt with the message, ‘Why always me?’ printed on it.
After another meeting between Hibs and Rangers in which Ryan Porteous was the centre of attention, the 22-year-old centre-back may be contemplating one of his own.
Last time here he had what looked to be a perfectly legitimate goal ruled out. In previous encounters at Easter Road he has seen red.
At Ibrox on Sunday afternoon, with Hibs leading and the home side lacking the verve that served them so well last season, Porteous launched into a challenge on Joe Aribo midway inside the Hibs half.
Porteous always looked to be getting the ball but when he dived in, he gave referee Nick Walsh a decision to make. The official brandished the red card and Porteous began the long walk to the dressing rooms with jeers ringing in his ears from all four sides of the stadium.
Veteran centre-back Darren McGregor was thrown on with Scott Allan sacrificed, the playmaker earning a booking from Walsh as he had words with the whistler as he left the pitch.
Speaking after the match Gers boss Steven Gerrard branded the challenge a “leg-breaker”, adding that the Scotland Under-21 international “had previous” for this sort of thing.
Jack Ross admitted that Porteous had given the referee a “decision to make” but did question if the challenge merited a red. Unless Hibs decide to appeal the red card, they will be without Porteous for the visit of Dundee United on October 16.
The young defender has been one of Hibs’ stand-out performers so far this season, showing a new maturity to his game. Both manager and team-mates have praised the turnaround in his displays but Sunday’s incident has, whether rightly or wrongly, undone some of that good work.
Hibs had been performing well up until the dismissal; Kevin Nisbet heading the visitors in front with fewer than ten minutes on the clock and while the hosts spent plenty of time in the opposition box throughout the first half there was always a head or leg in the way or too much oomph on the pass.
It seemed too much to expect Hibs to hold out for the remaining hour after the red card, especially looking at who Rangers had on the bench, and it was their first sub Kemar Roofe who hauled them back into the game with a well placed header on the hour mark, not too dissimilar to Nisbet’s opener.
With the 49,125-strong crowd, comprised solely of home supporters, sensing that the game could be turned around the remainder of the second period was largely one-way traffic.
Matt Macey did well to deny Ianis Hagi with just under 20 minutes remaining but the buoyancy in the stands told its own story and when Alfredo Morelos got up to head home what turned out to be the winner with another header, there was a feeling of inevitability.
Gerrard’s wild celebrations at full time should be a compliment to Hibs in that this victory was clearly a big, big win for the home side. Ross’ side are on the cusp of being a very good team and if they can cut out their alarming habit of losing goals from crosses then in future they may be taking one, or even three points from these games.
At Ibrox on Sunday Hibs showed, for 30 minutes at least, that their position in the upper echelons of the Scottish Premiership is no accident. That the players and coaching staff were disappointed to come to Govan and not win suggests that any questions regarding the team’s approach to big matches have been well and truly answered, in emphatic fashion.
On another day, Hibs might have won this encounter. Rangers weren’t really at their best and only really gained the upper hand with a man advantage.
With an international break coming up, the Easter Road players may feel irked at having to wait for a chance to banish this result from memory by focusing on the next game. But the lay-off may also boost those carrying knocks and injuries such as Kyle Magennis, who wasn’t fit to face Rangers, and Jamie Murphy who returned early from his own spell on the sidelines with a ten-minute cameo at the end.
The acid test will be bouncing back from the disappointment of this defeat by starting another run when the league card starts up again later this month.
On Armed Forces Day at Ibrox it would be fair to say Hibs lost the battle on the pitch but perhaps won the war against those claiming that the side has an issue with big games.
Hibs have been “competitive” in previous visits to Ibrox according to Ross but on this occasion they were more than competitive; they ran the show at times during the opening half hour.
Previous Hibs teams have come to Ibrox and been cowed by the occasion, or turned up and been beaten 3-0 without having much to show for their efforts.
The two sides meet again in the semi-finals of the Premier Sports Cup next month and on Sunday’s evidence – both in result and on-field incidents – it should make for an entertaining encounter.
We are regularly told that something good is being built at Hibs. The performance on Sunday suggested that completion may not be too far away.
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our sports coverage with a digital sports subscription.