Plain sailing for Hibs’ Ryan Porteous against Rangers

January recruit Jamie Maclaren prepares to blast Hibs' match-winning penalty at Ibrox. Picture: SNS.
January recruit Jamie Maclaren prepares to blast Hibs' match-winning penalty at Ibrox. Picture: SNS.
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The return of Scott Allan’s twinkle toes and John McGinn’s steamhammer left foot grabbed the headlines but this stunning win was built on the foundations of lusty tackling by a teenager making his first league start who treated the white-hot Ibrox atmosphere as just another game with the kids.

“I didn’t worry about it being Rangers, I just played it like it was a development game,” said Ryan Porteous after his jousts with the £8 million-rated Alfredo Morelos. Later in this engrossing contest he had to contend with 
Jason Cummings but the ex-Hibernian frontman didn’t faze him either, the 18-year-old taking time out from his tenacious blocks for some wind-up.

“I had a laugh with Jase when he was warming up,” Porteous added. “I was telling him to hurry up and get on the park so I could kick him. I was telling him how I was going to deal with him – force him on to his [weaker] right foot.”

If this sounds like cockiness it didn’t come across that way. Porteous was simply feeding the pressmen a good line. He was as accomplished in the post-match briefing as he’d been at the heart of the patched-up Leith defence.

Injuries last week to Paul Hanlon and Darren McGregor, allied to those already suffered by David Gray and Steven Whittaker, had pushed three Hibees into unfamiliar roles and restored Efe Ambrose to centre-back. The ex-Celt had a fine game himself but if chaperoning duties were part of the gig, Porteous didn’t seem to require them. “He’s a man,” said Neil Lennon, impressed by his gutsy contribution.

The manager turned to Porteous after learning of last Wednesday’s casualty list. “He said: ‘You might have to start – are you ready?’” The player didn’t get a great sleep on Friday night for thinking about the game but he insisted he didn’t think about Morelos, pictured left. “I didn’t get distracted by how good he might he,” the youngster added.

“The first ten minutes I was trying to find my feet. Efe and Lewie [Lewis Stevenson] were a big help.” Porteous spent last season on loan at Edinburgh City. He didn’t quite say that Morelos & Co were no different from the bruising centre-forwards he encountered in the bottom tier but that experience definitely helped his development.

“When I was only 17, everyone in League Two was a lot stronger than me. You come up against 6ft 4ins guys who will kick and punch and do anything to unsettle you. It toughens you up!”

Porteous maybe only made one mistake: taking a high ball on his chest and trying to move out of defence but only succeeding in giving away the free-kick from which Sean Goss equalised McGinn’s opener. “I’ve never, ever tried to do that before,” he admitted. “Some of the lads said afterwards I might come back to Ibrox in a few years and take the ball down and make a good pass, but right now it’s something I want to learn from.”

His father Tom was in the away end – his mum being too nervous to ever watch him play – and Porteous has been in that stand many times, watching Rangers-Hibs games no more gripping than this one. “I’ve been at Hibs since I was 14 and am very happy learning here. I reckon in Efe, Darren and Paul we’ve got one of the best defences in Scotland so I don’t think I’ve knocked one of them out after just this game. But I want to be ready for the manager when he needs me because he’s giving all the young boys a massive chance to play.”

A defender with a whole lot more experience, Russell Martin, was left rueing a missed opportunity for Rangers following Celtic’s defeat earlier in the day. “We had a big chance to gain some points and we haven’t taken it. We’ve also let Hibs get a bit closer to us,” he admitted.

After working hard to level the contest Rangers immediately fell behind again and Jamie Maclaren’s penalty proved to be the winner. “We didn’t start the game well enough,” added Martin. “The second half was really how it should be here. It was attack after attack. We dominated but it was frustrating. When we equalised we thought there was only going to be one winner. We showed more character in the second half but 
credit to Hibs, they did a job on us. We needed to get to grips with the game earlier. We didn’t and it cost us.”

Martin was asked about Morelos and the striker’s mood after the big-money move to China didn’t happen. “There’s been no difference, he’s a good lad.” The Scotland stopper has witnessed plenty of sulking and flouncing when transfers fail to materialise but not this time. “He worked his socks off in the game.”