Liam Fontaine reckons Hibs boss Alan Stubbs has pulled off a masterstroke by taking his players on a week-long trip to the sunshine of Spain.
Faced with an 18-day gap between the Easter Road side’s last league match, the 3-0 victory over Falkirk which clinched second place in the Championship, and the first of their play-off matches on Wednesday, Stubbs had to decide how best to utilise that time before his players begin their final push for promotion.
He plumped for the seaside resort of La Manga but, as he promised, it has been anything but a holiday camp as Fontaine confirmed, training being as demanding and intense as it would have been had he and his team-mates been back at their own East Mains complex.
But, with the sun on their backs, different surroundings and the opportunity for what is already a tight-knit group of players to spend more time together, defender Fontaine believes the expense of travelling will pay dividends over what remains of this month.
The former Bristol City man said: “It’s been great. The facilities are very good, the weather is great and it’s nice to wake up every morning and see clear blue skies.
“I’ve been away on loads of pre-season tours and during international breaks we’d sometimes enjoy those periods with a change of scene.
“As professional football players you prepare for a game on a Saturday but we’ve been left without a game since Falkirk, two Saturdays without a match so this is a good way to spend that time.”
Fontaine accepts there are two trains of thought governing the situation Stubbs and his players find themselves in, those who believe it would have been better to keep playing and those who think an extended break will recharge the players.
However, with injury victims Farid El Alagui, Dylan McGeouch and Keith Watson – all of whom missed games towards the close of the regular season – stepping up their training in Spain, Fontaine admits he’s very much in favour of this mini shut-down.
“I’m not concerned at all, he said. “It can be looked at two ways. If anyone has any niggling injuries or anything like that this can be used as a time to let them settle so they are raring to go.
“We have a group of players who are hungry to play and the fact we haven’t had games will make them more hungry.”
Fontaine has experience of what lies ahead, the 29-year-old was part of the Bristol City side which was pipped for a place in the English Premier League as they lost the play-off final in front of a massive 86,703 crowd at Wembley in 2008, beaten 1-0 by Hull City.
A 38th minute goal from Dean Windass was enough to settle what is described as the most lucrative match in the world given the financial rewards awaiting the club which wins promotion to go head-to-head with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool.
There are some who argue that the newly introduced play-off finals in Scotland should also end in a one-off, winner-takes-all showdown at Hampden, but while he understands that view, Fontaine said: “Speaking to the people, the fans, a lot of them do say it should maybe be a one-off, one game final at a neutral ground like Hampden. But it is the way it is and you have to play what is given to you. My opinion doesn’t matter.”
What does matter, though, is that Hibs win promotion whatever way they can. Fontaine said: “These are massive games, I think if we achieve what we set out to achieve it would be nice to be known at the end of the day as someone who was involved in taking Hibs back into the SPL.
“For us, getting up is the biggest prize. Ask anyone in Scotland and they will tell you Hibs should be in the SPL. What happened last season happened, that’s gone and we are the ones now with the task of trying to get us back to where we believe we should be.”
With two-legged affairs to be negotiated, Fontaine admitted he and his team-mates will need to adopt a different approach to matches, remembering they’ll be settled over 180 minutes and not the 90 they’ve been used to all season.
He said: “You have to treat the first leg almost as if it was one half, like a 45 minutes almost although it is obviously a full game. But if you are down in the first leg it’s only half-time and anything can happen in the second game.
“I watched the Swindon v Sheffield Utd game in the League One play-off and that was unbelievable, finishing 5-5. That’s play-off football, you have to try to win the game and that’s why it happened like that.
“I don’t have any preference as to who we play, whether it’s Rangers or Queen of the South it doesn’t really matter.
“At the end of the day we are out here preparing for whoever it is and we just have to be at our very best whoever we play against.”
Fontaine has admitted the smile is back on his face after his move to Hibs and now he’s making the fans of the Easter Road club laugh, a willing participant on Hibs TV’s “Outside the Box” feature.
“It’s a good laugh,” he said. “It’s different things every week. I’m trying to get a lot of the lads involved in it.
“I think it is good, a bit of interaction with the fans at home and it’s always good to have a bit of humour and comedy and a bit of a laugh. That’s what you want, you want to be able to go to work with a smile and enjoy it.”