Why Ryan Porteous deserves to keep his Hibs place for the semi-final despite another error
Dropping Ryan Porteous for the cup semi-final after his mistake against St Johnstone would be folly, argues Patrick McPartlin
It is perhaps easy to forget that Ryan Porteous only turned 22 six weeks ago. The centre-back has seemingly been around forever since returning from a productive loan spell at Edinburgh City in 2017, and he has packed a great deal into his 112 senior appearances – 88 of which have come in a Hibs shirt.
He is is now first choice for Jack Ross, partnering Paul Hanlon in central defence and being part of a settled backline that is a serious upgrade on last season’s rearguard. While he is not yet the finished article, he has come a long way from that rash teenager with a tendency to slide into tackles with a little more oomph than was necessary.
Because Porteous is still learning, he is prone to the odd mistake. But that doesn’t mean he warrants being dropped from the team for the Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United on Saturday.
If it feels like he has made more errors this season than before, it might be something to do with the number of games he has played. Porteous has played 39 times for Hibs this term and could be up to 43 by the time the curtain falls on the 2020/21 campaign – nearly twice as many games as he played in his breakout season of 2018/19.
For every misplaced pass or fluffed clearance there is a goal-saving tackle, or a last-ditch challenge – or the decisive spot-kick in a penalty shoot-out. He’s useful in the opposing box as well, chipping in with the same number of assists as Christian Doidge and Paul McGinn. His height makes him a constant threat at set-pieces.
For his first full season of being a first-choice defender in a Scottish Premiership side, he has performed well – especially considering the transfer interest in January, and the fact he lost his place to Darren McGregor before then winning it back.
Should McGregor be brought in for the semi?
It could be argued that an experienced defender is exactly what’s needed for a high-pressure, important Scottish Cup semi-final.
McGregor has been there before with Hibs and gone on to win the trophy. He knows what it’s like to lose a Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden, and the elation of winning one.
He knows what is expected. He also scored against Dundee United earlier this year and kept a clean sheet.
But parachuting him back into the squad more than two months after his last start could be risky in such a key game, especially against the Terrors’ front-three of Nicky Clark, Marc McNulty, and Lawrence Shankland.
The veteran is a hugely important member of the Hibs squad but is probably best kept for emergencies.
Get the wobble out the way
Some would reason that when it mattered most, Porteous had the ice to step up and fire Hibs into the last four of the cup in the penalty shoot-out and as such deserves to keep his spot on that alone.
It’s also probably no bad thing that he made an error in the week before this crucial cup tie. While it is true that the defender has made a few mistakes this season, he tends to shake them off the following game. Far better that he makes a mistake in the league with two matches left to play, than in a one-off cup game that might scupper Hibs’ chances of silverware.
Porteous was still a youth player when Hibs lifted the cup in 2016, and you can imagine his desperation to lift the famous old trophy himself. He has experience of playing and winning a final at Hampden with the development squad and will be champing at the bit to have the chance to repeat the feat with the first team.
Progress and pointers
Porteous has been broadly consistent this season and was an ever-present in the defence when it embarked on that impressive run in the first part of the campaign.
He is not the type of player to let a blunder faze him and given Ross and John Potter’s backgrounds as defenders there will have been more than a few words of advice shared – not to mention pointers from cup-winning quartet McGregor, Hanlon, David Gray, and Lewis Stevenson to take on board over the course of the season.
But as the 22-year-old has revealed in the past, no one will have given him a harder time than himself for his error at the weekend.
It is this mentality that will stand him in good stead going into Saturday’s semi-final.
In Ryan Porteous, Hibs have a homegrown talent who was named in the Scotland senior squad when he was still a 21-year-old; a powerful, mobile defender who has come back not once but twice from serious injury; and a dedicated, hard-working centre-half with European experience and victories against Celtic at Easter Road and Rangers at Ibrox under his belt.
He learns from his mistakes. He still plays the pantomime villain whenever Rangers come to town but there have been no over-zealous, lunging tackles this season and he has accumulated just five yellow cards from 39 games.
There is a maturity about his play that wasn’t present when he first broke into the first team, and he will only get better. That’s why he is there or thereabouts with the national team; why he has been trusted by Ross as one of his principle centre-backs; why he is attracting attention from other clubs.
And that’s why he there should be no quibble with his starting berth at Hampden.