If Ryan Porteous’ challenge on Lassana Coulibaly last week was hot-headed, the reception the Hibs teenager will receive at Ibrox this afternoon will be just as fiery.
Rangers were angry to see him escape with a yellow card at Easter Road so, when the youngster runs out in front of the partisan Govan crowd today he will be left in no doubt about how they feel.
The youngster, who has quickly become a cult hero to the Hibs fans, won’t give a hoot, according to his defensive colleague and former Rangers man, Darren McGregor.
“He takes it all in his stride. I am his biggest fan, he’s been phenomenal. Sometimes we forget he’s only 19! At that age I was kicking people down the Links for Leith Athletic and this guy is playing week in, week out against top opposition.”
Part of a defence that pieced together three clean sheets in a row prior to the weekend draw with Livingston, including a 2-0 victory over Celtic, followed by that 0-0 stalemate against Rangers, Porteous is a player who is not daunted by big-game atmospheres.
A wholehearted threat in the opposition box as well as his own, he has also managed to salvage a draw from the jaws of defeat on three occasions in the past couple of months, underlining his importance at both ends of the pitch.
But, for all his merits, there remains moments when his challenges have to be viewed through splayed fingers, the margins for error miniscule, and even manager Neil Lennon expressed annoyance with last week’s effort on Coulibaly. But there is a fine line between recklessness and the kind of combative spirit needed to dominate opposition forwards, says McGregor, and he believes that, with time, Porteous will learn just what is needed.
“That rashness is fine, to a certain extent you’d rather have him over aggressive than under aggressive. We all agree sometimes he is a wee bit rash but you have to take it with a pinch of salt. I think he goes into every tackle wanting to win the ball, there’s no intent to go in to hurt a guy. The other night a bit of tiredness had perhaps crept in and he mistimed it. There was no intent.
“You don’t want to take the aggression out his game but the rashness, well maybe he has to try to dial that down a bit. He knows that more than anyone but sometimes in the throes of the game you get a rush of blood, you think you can win it, you go in full tilt, you miss it, the other player gets there before you and it looks like a bad tackle.
“But if you speak to him off the park, he’s such a humble guy, a nice guy and he will go on to play at levels above this with the progress I have seen even this season and the help he gets from everyone behind the scenes as well.”
Already a Scotland Under-21 cap, McGregor believes Porteous is not far away from a full call up, citing attributes that will endear him to national boss Alex McLeish.
“He’s an attacking threat, good on the ball, composed,” said McGregor. “He’s 19 and he still has a bit to go but I think he ticks all the boxes for me, his composure, his ability on the ball, his strength at set pieces, his heading ability. He has a bright future.
“I said to him the other day, never mind the 21s. I don’t want to put him on too high a pedestal, but for me there’s not many better centre halves in Scotland. You’ve got Scott McKenna at Aberdeen, I like him, and John Souttar, who is injured at the minute, but he is definitely up there and he will be there very soon if he keeps developing the way he is.”
And while the opposition fans may baulk at some of his challenges, the Hibs support and his Easter Road colleagues are happy to back Porteous.
“The fans love to see that aggressive nature, love a slide tackle, said McGregor, who is another whole-hearted competitor. “Obviously it has to be within the confines of the game, it has to be controlled aggression but if he can slide in and win the ball he will and the fans love that. But I have said to him ‘pick and choose your moments, then win it’. If it’s there to win he’ll win it. Sometimes he’ll take the player with him but again the intent is to win the ball, not hurt the player so I am with him with that.”