As bad as it was Liam Fontaine today insisted Hibs’ miserable performance against Alloa will prove to be a one-off as Alan Stubbs’ new-look players find their feet in the Championship.
Stubbs branded the display at Recreation Park as the worst he’d seen since taking charge at Easter Road, the 2-1 defeat leaving the Easter Road club with just one win from their opening four league matches and trailing Capital rivals Hearts by nine points.
And, not surprisingly, the head coach didn’t find any dissenting voices among his players all of whom, like him, we’re offering no excuses for falling far below the standards Stubbs expects of them.
Mitigating factors such as an artificial pitch or a ground bearing little comparison to the venues of their previous games – Ibrox, Tynecastle and, of course, Easter Road – were summarily dismissed as simply having had no bearing on proceedings.
Instead, Fontaine insisted the 90 minutes in Clackmannanshire could only be put down as a collective “bad day at the office,” one which Hibs can’t afford too often if their bid to claim immediate promotion to the Scottish Premiership is to be realised.
The 28-year-old defender said: “You have to be able to get yourself up for any game whoever you are playing, wherever you are playing. You have to prepare the same way, to enter the field of play with the same mentality of winning games whether you are in a public park with no stands or a stadium like Easter Road.
“I’m no fan of plastic, but you cannot use that as an excuse, there are two goals, a ball and a pitch. We are professional football players, we have to be able to handle any conditions and impose yourself on a game – we didn’t do that.”
Former Bristol City stopper Fontaine had enjoyed a dramatic debut only a few days earlier, Hibs storming back to win 3-2 having been two goals down with just 12 minutes remaining in their League Cup tie with Dumbarton and, he admitted, that should have sent them on their way to Alloa with a spring in their step.
Confidence should have been raised by another notch when Jason Cummings, with more than a little help from Alloa defender Daryll Meggatt, nodded them in front after just 15 minutes, the early lead they had craved in previous matches when unable to turn pressure into goals.
It was a scrappy effort, one which ultimately matched the performance of the Edinburgh side, but one which, nevertheless, should have acted as the starting point for a victory which would have lifted Hibs away from the bottom end of the table where only two points separate them from basement club Cowdenbeath – their next opponents after the international break.
Fontaine agreed, saying: “The early goal didn’t come from the pretty play we’d produced in other games and you’d have thought after the way we came back against Dumbarton that would have seen us kick on. We just didn’t spark, instead we seemed to sit back and let them come into the game, which is unacceptable if we are to get back to where we want to be.”
Alloa got the equaliser they deserved through Liam Buchanan before substitute Iain Flannigan curled a superb free-kick beyond goalkeeper Mark Oxley with his first kick of the ball, Fontaine himself having conceded that 84th minute foul on the edge of the penalty area with his challenge on the home side’s most impressive player, Kevin Cawley.
London-born Fontaine said: “It was disappointing, but I’m a defender and you have to make your challenges. That’s just the way the game goes.”
What was more frustrating for Fontaine was the inability of the players to lift their game after Buchanan scored. He said: “We just didn’t have a response to it whereas against Dumbarton we’d shown we most definitely have that character.
“It’s hard to put your finger on it, but we were not on our game. A bad day at the office, that’s all it was and all that can be said about it.”
Like all other clubs, Hibs now have two weeks before their next game as Scotland boss Gordon Strachan takes his squad to Dortmund and the opening European Championship qualifying match against world champions Germany – and while he’d rather have had a match immediately in the wake of defeat, Fontaine insisted the break will be put to good use at Hibs’ East Mains training complex.
It’s only a week since Fontaine became the sixth of Stubbs summer signings – following the arrivals of David Gray, Farid El Alagui, Mark Oxley, Scott Allan and Matty Kennedy – with Celtic midfielder Dylan McGeouch and Southampton striker Jake Sinclair adding to that number on transfer deadline day.
Now they’ll have a period of grace to get to know their new team-mates and to begin grasping the style of football Stubbs is demanding. And that, Fontaine insisted, will be of benefit to all.
He said: “We’ll have time to work on things, time to iron all the kinks out and to get to know each other’s jobs better still. You have to remember this is still very much a team coming together. It’s still early in the season, we are only four games in, but we can’t afford to wait, especially if we are hoping to get back up there.
“We’ll use the break to bring us closer together. We’ve shown we have the quality and once we get it right we’ll get ourselves on a run that will see us flying.”