BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
NEIL LENNON has hailed the potential of loan stars Oli Shaw and Ryan Porteous as he attempts to unearth Hibs’ answer to Arsenal ace Rob Holding.
The Easter Road kids have thrived for club and country this season, with Shaw establishing himself in the SPFL with League 1 outfit Stenhousemuir, while topping the Development League scoring charts with 26 goals for the Hibees under-20s.
Porteous, who only turned 18 in March, has showed superb maturity and physicality to stand-up to the rigours of starring at centre-half in League 2, emerging as one of Edinburgh City’s players of the season.
Both have been regulars for Scotland under-19s and Lennon has been excited by their progress this season.
Reflecting on the first-team chances he afforded Bolton pair Holding and Zach Clough – who would go on to earn the Lilywhites a combined £5.5 million with considerable add-ons – Lenny hopes to repeat the feat in Leith.
“Porteous has had a fantastic season and whenever I have seen him, he has improved all the time,” lauded the Northern Irishman. “So has Oli Shaw, I’m very pleased with him. In those two, we potentially have two very good players.
“I’m not saying they’ll be the next Maradona, but I’d like to think they have an opportunity to play here in the next few years and become regulars, which is what the academy is here for.
“We want to produce our own and I think the fans take a bit more pride when they see the younger guys coming through.
“I did it at Celtic and I did it at Bolton with Zach Clough and Rob Holding – Rob went on to play for Arsenal, Zach went to Nottingham Forest. So I made Bolton a few quid, and I want to do the same here.”
Despite Grant Murray’s kids leading the Development League for much of the campaign, a late malaise saw them ultimately finish in fourth spot, nevertheless they have shown enough for Lennon to be convinced that Shaw and Porteous are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of emerging talent.
Fraser Murray, 17, was named man of the match in a recent 3-2 Championship win over Raith Rovers, Scott Martin has already made 12 senior appearances, Sean Mackie has made his first-team bow this term and only injury has stopped Callum Crane from deputising for Lewis Stevenson on occasion.
The challenge, Lennon knows, is for those players to make the step up next term as Hibs return to the Premiership.
“I have been really impressed with the quality of young player we have,” Lennon continued. “We gave Fraser Murray an opportunity to and he took it. That didn’t surprise me.
“There’s Shaw, Porteous, Sean Mackie. Scott Martin has been around the first-team all season and will only get better, Callum Crane was so unfortunate picking up an injury when he did, as he has been so patient.
“I know the step up between youth football and the first-team is big, but these guys have been training with the first-team for the majority of the season. Personally, I believe some of them could play Championship level already.
“What we want to do is bring them through, slowly but surely, into the first-team for next season.”