Ryan Porteous wants Hibs success to be the new norm as Easter Road side eye up Hampden return
As Ryan Porteous entered this world, Hibs were fighting to re-establish themselves as a top tier side and in the years since he has watched them yo-yo up and down the rankings.
But the last time they successfully positioned themselves within the country’s top three the Easter Road defender was in the fledgling stage of his primary school education, indicating just how notable it would be for the Leith side to achieve this season’s ambition of finishing best of the rest behind Rangers and Celtic.
But while third comes with plaudits and the potential for a protracted run in Europe, it is the winning of silverware that tends to give a season’s synopsis its sparkle. This term it also comes with the guaranteed European involvement into December at the very least.
There have been two knock-out trophies to celebrate in the 22 year-old defender’s lifetime – the 2006/07 League Cup triumph and the even more momentous Scottish Cup win in 2015/16 – and while he was in the crowd for the latter, he has also witnessed some near misses, some humiliation and a catalogue of sustained challenges. This season he has even been part of them, and having stumbled at the semi-final stage of the last two competitions, Porteous and his Hibs team-mates have become blinkered by their desire to wrap up a dream year by fulfilling both pre-season targets of third place and silverware.
“No, that’s not been normal for us in the last decade, maybe even two decades, but with the cup draws we have been getting, we should be getting to Hampden, no disrespect to the teams we have played,” said Porteous. “We should be aiming for Hampden every year, aiming for cup finals.
“We are a big club and, right now, we have top quality players who know what it takes to play at the highest level. So, while [third place and cup success] might not be something we are used to seeing from Hibs in recent years, I think now we have the structure and the players to be doing that every year.”
As it stands, this season would mirror Hibs’ 2004/05 and 1994/95 accomplishments but, although Porteous stresses they will come up against tough opponents when Motherwell travel to the capital for this evening’s quarter final, he believes the squad can improve on a third place finish, a semi-final and a quarter-final.
The last time the Leithers were able to combine such a lofty league finish – which they are now, possibly, just one win away from – with a cup win was before manager Jack Ross was born.
It was 1972/73 season when Eddie Turnbull steered his men to third and held aloft the League Cup, although they were ousted in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup so the current squad have the chance to reap a greater return for their season’s exploits.
The fact that the targets set by Ross’ men remain within their grasp has galvanised Porteous and the rest of the tight-knit unit. They know they can earn a place in the club’s history and having pushed so hard they want something palpable to show for their consistent efforts over a strange and demanding year.
“We have done well to put ourselves in the position where we could get something tangible but so far we have just not seen it through. The first one [last season’s delayed Scottish Cup semi], I felt we did more than enough to win the game but it didn’t happen and then in the second one [the last four defeat to St Johnstone in this season’s League Cup], we got what we deserved.
“First and foremost we need to see off a decent Motherwell team who are on a good run of form and in previous games they have proved a tough nut to crack so we know this will be another tough one but we have full belief in ourselves and the team and we believe we can see them off and get to another semi final.
“That would be another stepping stone towards the rewards we have been talking about.”
They underlined their single-mindedness midweek when victory over Livingston, ensuring a minimum of fourth and UEAF qualifiers next term, received an almost blase response.
“We knew what it meant on Wednesday but nothing was made of it in the changing room. That’s not what this group is about,” said the centre-back.
“Our goal was not just to finish fourth or to just get European football. Our goal has always been to finish third. That is what we want and there will be celebrations when that happens because that would be a massive achievement. The club has not done that since the 2004/05 season.”
A player who has epitomised the growth in the side, developing as a player and surfing the highs and low, of a Scotland call-up, offers from south of the border in January and then being left on the sidelines for both club and country, before returning to the Hibs team with even greater gusto.
“It’s been a great season. My goal was to play consistently for 30-35 games. And now I have hit that mark, I just want to keep performing at a high level.
“There have obviously been ups and downs through the season but now I have hit a high level of consistency, I want to keep that going.
“There are three massive league games and hopefully three big cup games left.
“I want something tangible to show for it. It would be disappointing to walk away without a cup but there’s still good teams left, teams we have struggled to beat this season. At the same time, we have given every team left in it a game this season and shown we can beat them on our day.
“We have belief we can do it. It’s now about actually doing it rather than talking about it.”