Ryan Porteous: I'm learning from the best at Hibs
There are international players to the left him, to his right, behind him and in front, so there's little surprise rookie Hibs defender Ryan Porteous reckons he is in just the right place to learn his trade.
The 19-year-old has been a stand-out for Neil Lennon’s side after being handed his big chance as Darren McGregor was forced to step out of frontline action because of injury.
But, he admits, life has been made that bit easier by the fact he has Hungarian goalkeeper Adam Bogdan behind him, Nigeria’s Efe Ambrose on his right shoulder, Hibs’ longest-serving player and Scotland cap Lewis Stevenson to his left and now, veteran Australian Mark Milligan providing that midfield shield in front.
However, as much as that quartet, and the rest of his team-mates, have been guiding hands, Porteous revealed it has been McGregor, the man whose shirt he has taken, who has been the one to turn to for advice.
He said: “Darren could quite easily have been a bit stubborn in the way he talks to me because I’m in the side and he’s out. But he’s been quite open, he will help me with anything I need to know.
“If I feel I need to ask him anything he will be open and try to help me to improve. I’m not sure if a lot of people would do that for someone who is trying to take his jersey.”
McGregor’s absence means he is one player Porteous hasn’t played alongside too often, an experience he would like to enjoy but aware that when the 33-year-old is declared ready to return, he could well find his own place under threat.
He said: “A lot of people have told me that when you get your chance you have to go in and keep your place. It’s been hard when you have Daz, Efe and Paul Hanlon in front of you and I’ve known it might take an injury or suspension to give me that chance.
“I’ve played a good few games on the trot now so hopefully I’ve done enough to do that.”
Bogdan, Ambrose, Stevenson and Milligan were just four of seven full internationalists who started against St Mirren at the weekend – Emerson Hyndman, Daryl Horgan and Thomas Agyepong the others – while the introduction of Steven Whittaker and Vykintas Slivka later in the game took that number to nine with Netherlands cap, defender Miquel Nelom, on the bench.
Porteous said: “When you consider Jamie Maclaren, Paul [Hanlon] and Martin Boyle were missing on Saturday you can see the strength in depth we have in the squad.
“But there’s also a tremendous flexibility in the way we play. There’s all sorts of different formations we can use as we saw in Paisley and, again, that’s a massive learning curve for me doing it at the highest level in Scottish football.
“For me, though, it’s not just learning on the pitch but how to live your life off it. You look at Efe, someone with countless caps for Nigeria, always coming in to training every day and putting in 100 per cent, Mark, who has been at the finals of four World Cups, arriving and looking as if he’s been here for years.
“And when you are winning games, keeping clean sheets and doing things right as the gaffer wants then you do feel good about yourself.”
Skipper David Gray’s first-half header was enough to give Hibs a third successive Ladbrokes Premiership win to take them to second place but, as hard fought as the victory over St Mirren was, Porteous insisted he and his team-mates took as much satisfaction from the result as any other.
“Games which you are expected to win can be the most difficult. These so-called lesser teams are still good sides and if you go into them and your mentality is not right then you can be in trouble. At Livingston the other week we showed them respect but we did not execute the gameplan properly the way we did against St Mirren.
“I can remember Hibs going to Paisley plenty of times and having a tough time of it. It’s a hard venue for any team as Celtic found out and we knew we’d have a difficult second half as we felt they had a lot more to give.
“They came out and started to press us a bit more but winning ugly is still winning. It’s a bonus if you can do that playing well as we did at Dundee, but you’d take the win any way you can do it.
“And we know if we can keep a clean sheet then we’ll have a pretty good chance of winning because, as we have shown, we are capable of getting goals from all areas.”
The visit of Hamilton Academical this weekend gives Lennon’s players the chance to stretch their winning run to four matches and to go into the next international break on a high with Porteous and team-mates Stevie Mallan and Oli Shaw looking to clinch a place in the European Under-21 Championship finals with Scotland. They face Ukraine away and then England at Tynecastle in their last two qualifying games, Porteous saying: “We have a good squad and we feel we are in with a great chance.”