Hibernian defender Ryan Porteous has watched former Scotland Under-21 colleague Scott McKenna go from struggling to get a game for Ayr United to becoming a £10 million-rated international stalwart. And he is convinced he is the example to follow.
Scotland face England tonight in their final Euro 2019 qualifying game at Tynecastle. Defeat by Ukraine in Kiev last Friday meant the under-21s cannot now qualify, with Aidy Boothroyd’s side long since having clinched the group.
Porteous continues to make impressive strides in his career and it is far from a big stretch to imagine him playing for Scotland in the not-too-distant future.
The 19-year-old Easter Road stopper has watched Aberdeen defender McKenna win promotion from Scot Gemmill’s Under-21s to being a big player for Scotland’s full squad. And with the A squad not exactly blessed with high-calibre centre-halves who love a tackle like Porteous, he sees an opportunity for himself.
He said: “I think Scott has shown he’s come from a couple of years ago struggling to get a game at Ayr to being one of the best centre-halves in the league and up there as one of the country’s best central defenders.
“He’s shown there’s a massive chance to take there. It’s looking up at players like him and Jack Hendry. I look up to them and there’s no reason why there isn’t a chance for myself and David Bates too.
“If you watch me over the last few years, the physical side of the game is definitely one of my strong points. It’s the part of the game I enjoy most along with defending.
“It’s about experience, playing games and knowing when to tackle and when to pull out of it. So it’s something I’ve learned, I’ve done a lot of work on it and I’m benefiting. It’s all about the timing and the parts of the pitch you do it.
“It’s a part of my game I don’t want to remove completely. It’s a good asset to have, it can lift the team and sometimes lift the crowd. A big tackle, interception or block can do that.
“For me, a 50-50 challenge is like a goalscoring opportunity. For defenders you don’t get the chance to score goals as much so it’s always been that way for me.”
Porteous can’t wait to test himself against an England side full of star-studded youngsters, who have already made an impact in the multi-million pound Premier League. He said: “It doesn’t matter what the competition is or if it is a friendly… if it’s against England we will do everything we can to win it. It’s not going to be a friendly match. It will be a heated game, it’s definitely not a dead rubber.
“They have the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Tammy Abraham. If you look too much into who you’re playing it can sometimes distract you from your own game plan. If we focus on ourselves and the task in hand and the game plan Scot has put out and execute it then hopefully it takes us to get the win.”
Porteous is a member of Hibs manager Neil Lennon’s side who have been quietly nudging their way up the league and are being talked up to mount a possible title challenge. With their next two games in the league away to Celtic and Hearts, their credentials will be tested to the full.
The defender is certain they will go into both games full of belief. He said: “The international break probably came at the wrong time for us because we were flying. Teams probably look at us and we’re scoring goals and we’ve had a few shut-outs. The gaffer said we want to be a team others fear to play.
“To go to Celtic Park you need that killer instinct to try to get the result. Of course it will be a difficult game, but the boys did brilliantly last year when John McGinn scored twice and we were unlucky not to win it. We’ve won four on the bounce now. And Hearts will take care of itself; it’s similar to the England game because it’s a derby.”
Meanwhile, Gemmill – who has called up Aberdeen midfielder Lewis Ferguson into his squad – is convinced Scotland are making genuine progress against the Auld Enemy… despite losing three times in the past 16 months. Scotland have twice lost to England in the semi-finals of the Toulon Tournament and also lost the Euro qualifiers’ corresponding fixture in Middlesbrough. In each of those games they have conceded three goals.
But they were ahead in France until half-time during the summer and Gemmill is convinced his squad are learning.
He said: “I’m very conscious of the last three games against them. If you compare those games – the game in Toulon two years ago we didn’t do ourselves justice and we were comfortably beaten. The game in Middlesbrough, there were parts of the game where England were very dominant, but we had a good reaction to conceding goals and we ended the game very strongly.
“And then the game this summer, the first-half performance from us was excellent and we were extremely disappointed that we couldn’t execute the game plan for the full duration of the match.
“The players – a lot of them who are going to be involved at Tynecastle – really showed they can stand up to top opposition. We have achieved good results against top opposition, and England are top, top opposition – they haven’t lost for a very long time at this level.
“But our players should be full of confidence because of the results they have achieved against France, Brazil and Holland for example. So there is a real opportunity to go and do it in a huge game.
“Every time the two countries play at any level there is a sense of occasion. To every generation these games matter.”