The ‘blatant cheat’ who became ‘Scotland’s lion’

John McGinn (left) said Ryan Porteous’ Scotland debut was ’10 out of 10′

Scroll your way down the reaction to Scotland’s line-up announcement for Tuesday’s Nations League decider with Ukraine and the narrative is clear.

Social media can be a negative echo chamber at the best of times, but the idea of Hibernian centre-back Ryan Porteous receiving his first senior cap in Krakow, in a game of such high stakes against Ukraine, was outrageous to many.

The 23-year-old’s ability isn’t often questioned, but a reputation of being ill-disciplined has followed the defender, who has been shown four red cards in his short career.

Just over a week ago, he was accused of “blatant cheating” by Aberdeen manager Jim Goodwin for his role in Liam Scales’ sending off in the Pittodrie side’s defeat at Easter Road.

Ten days later, he has been hailed for an “outstanding” debut by national team coach Steve Clarke after a standout defensive performance in the Scots’ draw in Poland, which helped secure Nations League promotion to League A.

“I’m so pleased for the boy,” Clarke added. “It shows that he listens and he learns.”

‘A debut to remember’

Injuries to Kieran Tierney and Scott McKenna paved the way for Porteous to make his debut in Poland. Even with options limited, it was a bold call from Clarke in a game of such magnitude.

Scotland knew a draw would ensure progression to the top tier of the Nations League, and guarantee a spot in pot two of the Euro 2024 qualifying group draw, plus a play-off place for the finals in Germany.

“I think we forget that Porteous is a talented footballer,” former Scotland international Leanne Crichton said prior to kick-off on Sportsound. “There’s no need to be a pantomime villain – he can go out and show how good he is.

“If he wants to be an international footballer, this is the time. What an opportunity.”

That opportunity was grabbed by both hands of the man from Dalkeith, with former Hibs midfielder Michael Stewart hailing “a debut to remember” – for all the right reasons – come the final whistle.

Porteous’ bravery in holding a high line, along with centre-back partner Jack Hendry, was hugely impressive – a part of Scotland’s defensive play that Clarke and his staff must also take huge credit for.

No Scotland player made more interceptions (two) or tackles (two) – in fact, arguably no Scotland player made a more important tackle over the course of the past six days than Porteous’ superb last-ditch challenge on Oleksandr Zubkov with just seconds remaining.

“We were raising eyebrows before the game about Porteous,” former Scotland striker Steven Thompson said on Sportsound. “That challenge at the end was so important, so brave. I’m pleased for him.”

Former Scotland winger Neil McCann added on Sportscene: “There would’ve been a lot of questions. But Porteous was a lion. Yes, his emotion sometimes takes over, but I like the kid. He showed at international level he doesn’t look out of place.”

‘A 10/10 performance’

As well as his resolute defensive discipline, which saw Porteous win seven of his nine duels, he demonstrated his composure on the ball in Poland.

The 36 passes he completed were the best of any Scotland player. It should come as no surprise, with the defender ranking top for Scottish Premiership centre-backs this season and last combined for successful switched passes and progressive passes.

What will come as a shock to many, though, was the maturity of his performance in Poland.

Porteous, however, always backed himself to display those level on the international stage and spoke post-match about how his national team manager shared that belief despite the doubters on the outside.

“When called upon I wanted to be ready,” he said. “I was ready. I’m buzzing to play my part. I’m big enough to take [the doubters]. The manager has never doubted me.”

Stand-in Scotland captain John McGinn added: “He’s had a lot of criticism his short career. It was an opportunity for him to show Scotland and Europe what he’s all about.

“He was first class. A 10-out-of-10 performance. If he keeps on performing like that there’s no doubt he can be a Scotland regular for years to come.”

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