Ryan Porteous proven right over Scotland claim but one moment will cause 'sleepless nights'
Porteous had an opportunity to get off the mark with a header that would have represented another significant moment in the 24-year-old’s nascent career. Sadly, he was off target.
The defender headed over from a good position after Billy Gilmour’s fine cross in the second half. “I forgot about it as well until one of the boys said to me in the shower,” he said. “I tried to blame the pitch but I can’t even do that!
“It was a great ball in,” he added. “I probably should have done better, and I’ll probably have some sleepless nights over that.”
Porteous’ priority is making sure Scotland are keeping them out at the back. He is excelling on that front. Five caps, one goal conceded. And that was from the penalty spot after a foul he had committed on Erling Haaland in a game Scotland nevertheless won.
Few Scotland players have enjoyed such a seamless and productive introduction to international football.
Other than concede a debatable penalty and the goal-that-got-away, Porteous has barely put a foot wrong since being drafted in against Ukraine in September in challenging circumstances. Injury-hit Scotland were seeking the point to secure top place in their Nations League group and promotion to League A. A 0-0 draw in which Porteous was the standout delivered that and allayed pre-match fears that the then Hibs player might be too impetuous to cope on such a rarefied stage.
Now at Watford, the defender has kept his place since. The extent to which he has become a fixture in Clarke’s defence in such a short time was illustrated by the reaction when it was claimed Porteous was suspended for Tuesday’s clash against Georgia, having been booked against Norway.
There was genuine concern at the prospect of being without someone who’s made the right side of the three-man defence spot his own, which has in turn allowed Steve Clarke to restore recent goalscoring phenomenon Scott McTominay to midfield.
It later emerged that Porteous’ yellow card against Norway, for tripping Haaland at the penalty, was only his second booking of the campaign rather than third and he was free to play against Georgia, where he was part of a defence that collected a fourth competitive clean sheet out of five. There's been no reason to challenge the player’s own view that he was ready for his promotion to the international starting XI.
“I was involved since I was about 18 in the squads, so I was turning up every camp, training, sitting on the bench and learning from top players and a top manager,” said Porteous. “When I made my debut I thought it was the right time for me.
"I’ve made the move down to Watford which I think has helped me to progress. Now it’s just about trying do what I can to stay in there and stay fit for every single game.”
He is taking it all in his stride and won't yet consider the prospect of involvement in a major finals next summer - perhaps having already helped steer Watford back into the Premier League.
“We enjoy every night as it comes, but we probably don’t look at the bigger picture as much as you do, but that’s your job," he said. "You’ve got to get the fans excited and quite right too. But I think it’s very important that we are grounded, because throughout history – as the gaffer's said in the press – when you think you are doing well that’s when football can bite you. So, we’re just taking it a game at a time."
The latest win, a fourth in succession at the start of a group for the very first time, has put Scotland in a very strong position. They have even survived a torrential downpour that threatened to knock them off course on Tuesday against Georgia. Already 1-0 up after Callum McGregor’s goal, the referee brought both teams off in the 10th minute amid home fears the game would have to resume the following day. That was Georgia’s preference and they were reluctant to reappear.
Porteous sympathised. “I can completely understand why they wanted to get the game off,” he said. “Let’s be serious here, I think we would have been the same.
“The manager was just telling us to stay focused," he continued. "Credit to all the staff, from the physios to the sports scientists, for keeping us ticking over. They got us food at the right times, and things like that are important as well.
“We eat three hours and 15 minutes before kick-off, and when that gets disrupted for an hour, it can have a massive knock-on effect.
“Credit to all the staff in there, and I’m just glad that we delivered for them. They were just getting carbs into us, carb drinks, bananas, carb bars etc. We’re professional footballers, so we know what should go into our bodies and what shouldn’t. I’m just delighted we got through it, especially with no injuries as well with the way the pitch was.”
Porteous is free - within reason - to continue eating carbs before clocking back on for pre-season training with Watford, who begin their league campaign against Queens Park Rangers on 5 August.
The defender might first permit himself some time to reflect on a season that began on 9 July with a 5-0 win over Clyde in the League Cup while at Hibs. A full Scotland debut and move to Watford has followed in a life-changing 12 months.
Does it look like he is happy? Yes, it does. And he has every right to feel satisfied.
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