Hibs boss Alan Stubbs today praised the part Liam Fontaine has played in the Easter Road club’s drive up the Championship table, saying that the defender “makes the game look easy”.
Fontaine arrived in Edinburgh as Hibs made a stuttering start to the season, losing four of their opening league matches. He endured a nerve-racking debut only hours after signing as his new team-mates came from behind to beat Dumbarton 3-2 in the League Cup.
However, Stubbs’ players have now lost just one of their last 18 Championship matches, that run culminating in a third successive victory over Rangers, while the Capital outfit also have high hopes of reaching the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup with a home tie against League Two side Berwick Rangers.
Having seen Fontaine form a formidable partnership in central defence with Paul Hanlon, Stubbs said: “I think Liam has been outstanding for the last few months, he’s played with a real calmness and the assuredness of a top player.
“That’s what he is, an example to everyone on and off the pitch. He has made the game look easy at times, which is the biggest compliment you can pay anyone.”
The former Bristol City stopper appeared to take time to adapt to the Scottish game but, Stubbs revealed, there was a simple explanation. He said: “I don’t think everyone realises that when Liam came to us he had only just overcome an operation on his ankle and so took a little time to get over it. But now he has got into his stride his level of performance has been right up there with anyone.”
And Stubbs believes his player has one vital weapon in his armoury that no coach can teach, the “natural instinct” on display at Ibrox which the former Celtic and Everton defender described as the game’s defining moment – Fontaine heading Kenny Miller’s netbound shot off his own line with the match still deadlocked.
He said: “To all intents and purposes it’s a goal. Then you see Liam popping up and managing to clear off the line. That’s natural instinct, just knowing where to go, seeing the danger and knowing where to put yourself.
“That’s the one thing you can’t give defenders, they have to be able to see danger and think ‘what’s going to happen next’. That’s what Liam did, he wasn’t affecting the ball but he’s thought ‘what happens if Kenny Miller has a shot’, and has put himself behind Mark Oxley and into a position to be able to head it clear.”