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Lee Johnson believes Hibernian defender Ryan Porteous is being “targeted” and is concerned he could be forced to leave Scottish football.

The 23-year-old centre-back has been involved in regular controversy since breaking through at Easter Road and earlier in the month Aberdeen boss Jim Goodwin was handed an eight-game ban by the Scottish Football Association for accusing Porteous of “blatant cheating” to win a penalty against the Dons in September.

The Hibs boss claimed Porteous, who made his Scotland debut against Ukraine in Poland last month, was the victim of a “heavy elbow off the ball” in Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat by Dundee United at Tannadice as he made a case for more protection for his player.

Johnson was speaking in the context of VAR’s introduction to the Scottish game with its first appearance coming in the Hibs versus St Johnstone game on Friday week and he said: “The-off-the-ball stuff should get caught but it doesn’t get caught enough at this level, at the time or retrospectively.

“Ryan Porteous had a big one where he received a really heavy elbow off the ball.

“It didn’t get picked up, it didn’t get spoken about and I think Ryan Porteous needs a lot more protection than he is getting at the moment.

“He is actively being targeted which is quite interesting. He showed great maturity not to react in those situations.

“You have a Scottish player, young, extremely talented, now in the Scotland set-up, that has got a reputation.

“I look back to England and I feel it is more diluted in England because of the number of clubs you have whereas here it is such a goldfish bowl in terms of the media, the amount of times the players and managers come across each other, sometimes there can be a subliminal bias against certain players.

“He might want to jump out of the Scottish league for that exact reason because he feels that target is there on and off the pitch.

“It is a concern. You could end up losing players for that type of scenario, that they don’t feel they are being protected, they feel that they are being targeted.

“Since I have come in he has been an   absolutely A-grade professional in every action, off the pitch and on the pitch.

“In terms of aggression and control in games and he has been an absolute pleasure to work with.”

The former Sunderland, Bristol City and Barnsley boss admits he will have to watch his goal celebrations given the capacity of VAR stepping in to rule out goals.

He said: “You never truly know how it will pan out for you in any one game so there is always a little bit of nerves there, particularly at the start.

“It probably takes a little bit away from the celebration.

“As a manager I will be a little bit worried about doing a (Jurgen ) Klinsmann (dive) or a Jose Mourinho, a knee slide on the floor knowing I might look stupid if something goes wrong.

“That will be a little bit awkward because I do like to be authentic with my celebration but I think it is a good thing.”