Liam Fontaine today set his sights on helping Hibs embark on another unbeaten run, claiming everything has finally clicked into place at the club.
The Easter Road side’s seven-match streak was brought to a halt by Dundee United, who have since gone top of the SPFL Premiership, but only after a sudden death penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final of the League Cup.
But rather than dwell on that fact, defender Fontaine insisted the players are far from despondent, believing that in recent weeks they have gone from strength to strength.
Although the Capital club, along with Hearts and Rangers, were looked upon as forming a three-horse race for the Championship title, Fontaine acknowledged Hibs have taken longer than their rivals to get into their stride, a fact he puts down to the huge upheaval which took place over the summer as manager Alan Stubbs began to put his new-look squad together.
Now, though, he believes Stubbs’ patience and faith in the changes he was making are beginning to pay dividends.
Echoing his boss’s assertion that current league standings count for little, the former Bristol City stopper said: “I’m going to be a bit clichéd, but you just take each game as it comes. All we can do is focus on today’s game [away to Cowdenbeath]. If we go there, don’t perform and are beaten then what’s the point in focusing on the next few matches.
“You need to get the first game done, win it, go on to the next one and win it, on to the next and win it or at least be beaten. If we are gong to drop points it has to be a draw and not a loss.
“Looking from the outside in, we have a great squad on paper but we are the ones that have to perform and put points on the board. The gaffer has strong belief in us, we have belief in ourselves and in each other and you can feel that in the changing room.
“I think there has been a massive improvement. As a squad, we have become more tight-knit from top to bottom, even the people off the pitch, and I think you are seeing that in how we play, that we are always there for each other.”
So what has brought that about? “Time maybe”, replied Fontaine. “With the gaffer bringing in players it needs time to gel and bond and I think we are starting to see the results of that.”
A sign of that, perhaps, has come with Jordon Forster’s broken foot, which forced Stubbs to alter his back line from a three to a four with Fontaine now partnering Paul Hanlon in the centre with David Gray and Lewis Stevenson in the full back berths. The changes have made little, if any, difference as opposition teams have found them equally difficult to beat.
Fontaine said: “What happened to Jordon was so unfortunate, but you have to adapt. It’s been absolutely fine, Paul and I played alongside each other in the three so it’s much the same, just that Paul’s moved to the right.”
Having had a ten-day break between the United clash and today’s match, Fontaine believes he and his team-mates are ready to go again, their self-belief strengthened yet again as they’ve reflected on how close they ran United. He said: “It was a very good game against a very good team, a real cup tie for everyone. It was disappointing to lose it, but when it goes to penalties it just becomes unlucky.
“But we’ve moved on from that. We have to get back on to the pitch and win again. Having the weekend off was not ideal but we took time to rest and now we’ve had a good week’s training.”
The inhospitable surroundings of Central Park will undoubtedly test that resolve but, Fontaine insisted, Cowdenbeath’s somewhat dilapidated ground won’t be used as an excuse for any mishap.
He said: “You go there and play the pitch, really. If you’re taking notice of what’s around you, you’re not concentrating on the game, are you?
“I think that’s the attitude you have to have in most games. We want to go to Cowdenbeath with the correct mindset and get the job done no matter what. You can’t use any conditions as an excuse. We learned at Alloa – that was a game where we got beat – now we need to put this one right and come away with the three points.”
While time has brought Fontaine and his team-mates closer together so, too, have the Hibs fans appeared to become reconnected with the team following the shock of relegation and the recriminations that followed.
The 28-year-old noted how the supporters, despite the disappointment of Alim Ozturk’s stunning late equaliser for Hearts and losing on penalties to United, accorded Stubbs’ players a standing ovation at the end of each match. He said: “It’s a great feeling to have, knowing your fans are there with you. We go out there to do it for ourselves, team-mates and family at home and the fans. It is important they are with us and we are really feeling they are.”