Grading centre backs will always be much more of a challenge than grading attackers. They…
Nobody look now, but Scotland’s U21 team are once again pulling up tree trunks and carving off huge scalps at this year’s Toulon Tournament. After an opening-game draw with Togo that finished 1-1, Scot Gemmill’s boys then surprised many with a 1-0 win over France on Wednesday night.
It was the first time a Scottish team had overcome France at any age level of international football in 11 years. Oliver Burke, relentless in his intent to steal the headlines with notable performances for the national team’s youth sides from time to time, scored the only goal of the match with a forceful shot past the French goalkeeper at the front post. As such, the coverage you’ll most likely find of the game or indeed this very Scotland team will begin and end at that. But there’s someone else of more intrigue that also took part in Wednesday night’s match.
At the back, young central defender Ryan Porteous pulled off yet another impressive performance against a French side determined to not only equalise after the solitary goal in the 35th minute, but also go on and win the game. Alongside St Johnstone’s Jason Kerr, the young Hibs defender made sure that never happened.
Today, deep in the bowls of Easter Road, Neil Lennon will open an email and click on an attachment reporting in great detail just how well Porteous once again rose to the challenges that met him. And, undoubtedly not for the first time this year, Lennon will ponder whether the 19-year old is ready to take up a starting role in his team next season.
Porteous has featured for Hibs over the past season, but unless you’re a season-ticket holder in Leith you’d be forgiven for not knowing too much about the young lad. Lennon has used him sparingly to cover injuries among his three, reliant central defenders in Paul Hanlon, Efe Ambrose and Darren McGregor. Yet the kid has already shown signs that he may be ready to challenge for a starting spot.
Porteous only played 661 minutes of first-team football for Hibs over the past season – about 1/3rd of McGregor’s tally – but in those select few performances he did showcase talents to rival any of Lennon’s current back line. And the stats certainly suggest as much.
In his 10 appearances this season Porteous averaged an impressive 19.73 successful, defensive actions per game. In comparison, McGregor (16.26), Hanlon (13.55) and then Ambrose (11.39) are some way off.
If we want to break that down in to something a normal person would understand, we can instead note that Porteous averages more aerial duels per game than the other three Hibs central defenders. He also averages more tackles, interceptions and shots blocked. Essentially, as the graph above shows, Hibs’ young star is already averaging better stats than the three senior players in front of him.
Of course, stats are useless without context. And while Porteous’ averages are superb in their own right it’s worth noting that 40% of the 19-year-old’s game time this past season has come against very limited opponents in the League Cup. With all due respect to Montrose, Arbroath and Ayr United, they’re not an accurate or fair test for this hopeful talent.
Although, that’s not to say Porteous hasn’t yet been tested against legitimate opponents in Scotland. This season he started in the 2-1 win over Rangers in March and on that day he won 73% of his aerial duels against the likes of Alfredo Morelos and Josh Windass – a tally that bests his season average of 61%. Similarly, when Lennon called upon Porteous in Hibs’ 2-2 draw with Kilmarnock just two weeks later, the defender was joint-top of the Scottish Premiership interception board alongside Ambrose. Although these may just be two games, they do suggest that this young defender tends to perform when called upon.
While the senior Scotland team may currently be going through something of a central defender renaissance as the likes of Scott McKenna, Jack Hendry and John Souttar all wait patiently to replace Charlie Mulgrew or Russell Martin, there’s no doubt that Porteous’ name has already been discussed among the Scotland coaching staff at Hampden or Oriam.
Hibs don’t only have a handy back-up defender on their hands in this young player, but a talent that could go on to star for the Easter Road side for years to come, before making his name at international level. We may all be talking about John McGinn at the moment, but next season or the year after that it’ll undoubtedly be this player that’s being linked with every club from Glasgow to Bournemouth.
Lennon will most likely be in no rush to shuffle a defensive line that did him well over the past season. However, he will be aware of McGregor turning 33 in August and if the Hibs manager continues to play with a back three then there’s no doubt that we’ll see far more of Porteous at Easter Road over the next year. Between now and then we wait, impatiently, to see just how good this young talent can become.