Hibs may be short of quality strikers in light of the close-season departures of Jason Cummings, James Keatings and Grant Holt, but they have no such problems at the other end of the pitch.
As they prepare to return to the Premiership following a three-year absence, the Easter Road side could hardly be in ruder defensive health.
An established core of dependable defenders – namely David Gray, Lewis Stevenson, Liam Fontaine, Efe Ambrose, Paul Hanlon and Darren McGregor – was augmented by the confirmation on Saturday morning that Steven Whittaker had returned to Hibs on a three-year contract. A few hours later, the 33-year-old former Scotland full-back watched from the stand as another defender added his name to the mix in the shape of Ryan Porteous, the highly-regarded 18-year-old.
After catching the eye in pre-season friendlies earlier this month, the robust, ball-playing centre-back made his competitive debut against Montrose on the right side of a three-man central defence in the absence of Ambrose and Hanlon. Porteous marked his big day with an assured, aggressive and swashbuckling display, which left many supporters hoping Neil Lennon decides against loaning the Scotland Under-19 internationalist out again following his fruitful stint with Edinburgh City last term.
“It was a dream come true to make my debut because I’ve grown up as a Hibs fan,” said Porteous, pictured right, who spoke afterwards as confidently as he played. “I wasn’t sure it would come this season because of the amount of centre-backs we have here, but injuries and circumstances have led to me getting an opportunity. Hopefully I made a positive impression.
“I had my family in the stand. The gaffer told me the day before there might be a chance I would start and to tell my family to come along. I never got much sleep – I was buzzing. I was nervous because it was my competitive debut, but I thought I did okay so hopefully I will get another opportunity.”
Porteous had been earmarked to join Championship side Dumbarton on loan, but, with Jordon Forster having departed and Hanlon and Ambrose still not up to speed, that plan is currently on hold. “I’ll just wait until the manager decides what to do,” said the teenager. “He’s given me a start so I am obviously in his mind, but the quality we have got that didn’t even make the squad today just shows the strength in depth that we have in this position, so I think it will be hard for me.”
Senior players at Hibs have been taken aback by Porteous’s strength in the tackle on the training ground, and one crunching challenge in particular, midway through the second half, had the home crowd roaring their approval, although the youngster conceded he does occasionally sail too close to the wind.
“I’ve put in worse tackles than that,” he joked. “It was a tackle I probably didn’t have to make, but it’s in my game and I don’t think I should lose that completely. If I get the ball, then everyone loves it. If you miss it then it’s a booking or a red card. I’m a bit rash sometimes and I have to control that, but I wouldn’t want to take it out of my game completely.”
Porteous was one of two Hibs players handed a competitive debut on Saturday. The other was ex-Dundee United striker Simon Murray, who produced a lively display and scored with a pair of close-range headers. Fraser Murray, the 18-year-old attacking midfielder, marked his fourth first-team appearance with a well-executed goal and another eye-catching performance.
Substitute Brian Graham, who was the subject of some mild jeering from a section of home supporters underwhelmed by his contribution over the past year, completed a comfortable win with a late penalty after Graham Webster handled Stevenson’s cross. Hibs, who will not be signing trialist Jermaine Pennant, continue their Betfred Cup campaign with a trip to Ross County on Friday.