Hibs central defender Liam Fontaine says he fully respects head coach Alan Stubbs’ decision to start Paul Hanlon alongside Darren McGregor in Tuesday night’s victory at the Falkirk Stadium.
Fontaine found himself relegated to the substitutes’ bench despite playing and scoring his side’s second goal in last weekend’s 4-2 victory over Dumbarton at Easter Road.
After missing his team-mates’ win over the Sons through injury, Hanlon made a return to the starting XI in midweek at the expense of Fontaine, who replaced striker James Keatings after 85 minutes as Stubbs sought to preserve the lead handed to his side by Jason Cummings’ first-half penalty.
And, while admitting it’s in every footballer’s make-up to feel disappointed at being overlooked for a starting berth, Fontaine pointed out his exclusion is testimony to the squad Stubbs has managed to assemble this season.
“You want to play but, at the end of the day, it’s the gaffer who has to make decisions and you have to respect that,” said Fontaine, 29. “All you can do when you get your chance is to perform. I came back last week after missing out (against Queen of the South) and was able to win the game and get myself off the mark.
“But credit to the squad we have got that we are able to do that, especially when we have the games coming up thick and fast as they are. Everyone on the bench on Tuesday could have come on and had an effect on the game in a different way. It’s a credit to the club for building a squad like this. It was a really good win for us. Obviously, it was a game we had to reschedule so to get the three points from it was great for the club.”
The Easter Road side are on their travels again this afternoon with a trip across the Forth to tackle a resurgent Raith Rovers side unbeaten at home this season under new boss Ray McKinnon.
The Kirkcaldy club have collected full points from all five of their Championship fixtures at Stark’s Park this term and are just a point adrift of Hibs in third place. But Fontaine believes that, despite the Capital club’s last visit in March ending in a 2-1 defeat, the home side can expect a completely different proposition this time around.
“They’ve been going really well so far this season,” said Fontaine. “They have a great home record to be fair to them and you always expect them to be well organised, especially when they come up against us. But we’ve been going well ourselves so it should be a good game. Last season was last season. We played them earlier this season and controlled the game so hopefully we can do that again and show our style that we have been lately.”
The Englishman is, however, looking forward to seeing a familiar face in the opposition ranks in midfielder Scott Robertson, who opted to leave Easter Road at the end of last season in favour of a new challenge with Romanian outfit Botosani – a switch that turned sour for the former Dundee United player as he ripped up his contract after just three months.
“It will be great to Scott,” Fontaine said. “He’s a great lad and was a massive part of us last season. Some of the lads still speak to him so it will be good to see him. We know what to expect. He is a hard, high energy, high work-rate midfielder so it’s going to be a great battle in the middle of the park. He went out there [Romania], tried to do something different. For whatever reason it didn’t work and he came back and has got himself going again.”
With the gap on leaders Rangers having been cut to eight points courtesy of Tuesday’s narrow victory over the Bairns, Stubbs’ men have the opportunity to reduce that tally to five with another win this afternoon – the Ibrox side’s clash with St Mirren not kicking off until tomorrow lunchtime.
“It’s up to us to put our three points on the board,” Fontaine said. “If we do that then they have to go out on Sunday and put their three points on the board. If we can, then it’s going to put a little bit of pressure on them. It’s still early in the season, though, and we still have to play Rangers a few times.”