BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sprt
HIBERNIAN star Ryan Porteous is determined to ensure Celtic’s champagne remains on ice this weekend – after admitting he has no intention of enduring another title party at Easter Road.
Porteous, a Hibee die-hard, was a regular in the stands long before he was turning out for the first-team, and he still recalls the scenes of celebration when Rangers claimed the crown in 2009/10 thanks to a 1-0 win in the capital.
The Gers secured two-in-a-row courtesy of a solitary strike by Kyle Lafferty.
It is an afternoon that still stings and, while motivation is not in short supply for Neil Lennon’s European hopefuls, Porteous confesses that the prospect of stopping Celtic from tasting glory on their turf is an additional incentive.
Should Brendan Rodgers’ side triumph in Edinburgh, it will secure a seventh successive Premiership title.
“We know that if we can get the result then we stop them from winning the league on our patch,” said Scotland under-19s captain Porteous.
“It’s not as if you need any extra motivation when Celtic come to town, but you can’t pretend that doesn’t add a little bit of spice to it.
“It should be a good occasion.
“I’ve seen teams win the league at Hibs before as a supporter. It’s never fun.
“I was here when Rangers won the league [in 2010] and it’s not something you particularly want to experience. So, well be setting out to win the game and hopefully make sure that doesn’t happen.
“However, It doesn’t matter who we are playing – Rangers, Aberdeen, Celtic – and whether or not they can win the league, we will always set out to win the game. That will be the case again this weekend.”
In another sub-plot to a fascinating encounter, the man charged with halting the Hoops procession is head coach Neil Lennon, who boasts 16 major honours with Celtic during 11 years as player, coach, and manager.
He remains a legend in Glasgow’s East End – but there will be no sentimentality on Saturday.
“The manager will definitely be up for it – but that’s the same for every game!” smiled Porteous.
“He’s always said to us that we tend to perform well in the bigger games. It’s the so-called smaller games that can be an issue at times.
“Well, they are all big games now – it’s five cup finals – so hopefully that suits us.”
Indeed, Hibs are firmly in the shake-up to finish as ‘best of the rest’ behind Celtic this term.
“They are just three points adrift of Rangers and Aberdeen – both of whom endured chastening Scottish Cup exits at the weekend – as the top six prepare to square off against one another.
And Porteous acknowledges it would be a ‘dream’ to represent his boyhood heroes on the European stage – as long as there is no repeat of Hibs’ historic 7-0 defeat to Malmo in the capital in 2013.
“It’s still not done and dusted – Kilmarnock are on our heels and absolutely flying, and we have some tough games after the split,” continued Porteous.
“But if we keep focusing on the next game to come and perform to the best of our ability then we should get there [to Europe].
“It would be an absolute dream to go away and be a part of that with Hibs.
“This is a different club these days. We want to win trophies, we want to be in Europe and I believe we have the players and staff to do ourselves justice on that stage.”
Porteous added ruefully: “My favourite European memory? Not Malmo, that’s for sure!
“No, you only need to look back to last season when we played Brondby and that was electric. We showed that we can compete at that sort of level.”
While Hibs enjoy a magnificent return to the Premiership following a three-year absence, Porteous’ own progress has been equally laudable.
The powerful defender is already in double-figures in first-team appearances, has scored three goals and turned in a man-of-the-match showing in a 2-1 win over Rangers in February.
Allied with his duties for the senior side, he is the captain and talisman of their Development Squad, who are on course to claim Hibs’ first League and Cup double at under-20 level in a decade. They face Aberdeen’s kids in the SFA Youth Cup final at Hampden next Thursday.
“I feel like I’ve got the best of both worlds,” added Porteous. “It’s a great experience for all the lads to be going to Hampden. For a lot of them, it will be the first time they’ve ever played on that stage. But the main thing is to be ready for the first-team if called upon.”