Liam Fontaine went through the emotional wringer in yesterday’s League Cup final, but ultimately ended up floored by heartache.
The Hibs defender experienced the thrill of firing his side’s equaliser just before half-time after Michael Gardyne had given Ross County the lead.
However, the 30-year-old, playing in his first cup final, then inadvertently played a part in the Dingwall side’s last-minute winner when his attempt at clearing a Gardyne cross ran agonisingly across the face of his own goal before Alex Schalk pounced to knock it over the line.
Moments later, Fontaine almost scored a second equaliser but his overhead kick from just inside the box was tipped over by County goalkeeper Gary Woods. “I’ve never had a game with so many highs and lows,” said the centre-back. “It was quite an emotional game and I was really trying to go for it after what had just happened with their goal.
“I only caught the last glimpse of my overhead kick seeing the keeper tipping it over the bar. It would have been nice to get the equaliser because we were trying all we could to go for it and get the result back but sadly it didn’t go in.
“The mistake happened to me and I have to deal with it. That’s about all I can say about that. The boys were all supportive in the dressing-room. We are a good team like that and that’s what we did – look after each other. It’s up there with the biggest disappointment I’ve felt in my career; but that’s football and if you can’t learn to handle that then you’re in the wrong game.”
While Hibs have had their bottle questioned in the past, Fontaine insists yesterday’s defeat wasn’t a case of their character deserting them. He believes they have enough collective mettle to overcome their disappointment in time to progress in the Scottish Cup and earn promotion to the Premiership.
“I don’t think it was a mental thing that went wrong,” said the defender. “The better team on the day doesn’t always win and that’s what happened here. Now we just have to go again, it’s simple as that. If hard times do make you stronger then we are going to get better from this.
“It has to be something that makes us stronger. You get served some bad stuff in life sometimes and you just have to deal with it. In the grand scheme of things it’s just one disappointment and we have other opportunities to do more good things. We can’t afford to let the season peter out, it should be in your make-up as a professional to stand up, man up and push on to the next challenge.”
Goalkeeper Mark Oxley revealed that Fontaine apologised to his team-mates in the dressing-room, but dismissed any notion that the defender was responsible for the defeat.
“There’s no blame on anybody,” said Oxley. “We said to him that we win as a team and lose as a team. It’s alright Fonts saying sorry, which he has done because he’s a great lad, but we’ve had enough chances and possession to go on and win the game.”
Yesterday’s defeat bore similar hallmarks to Hibs’ previous visit to Hampden when they lost to Falkirk in last year’s Scottish Cup semi-final despite having the lion’s share of possession and chances. The same could be said of the play-off semi-final against Rangers last May. Oxley admits their inability to turn the screw while on top is becoming wearing.
“To be honest with you we have been in this position a few times now,” he said. “That’s why it is frustrating. We were here last year with Falkirk and our aim was to try and put it right. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. When you look at the attempts on goal we were probably the better team in that area. At the end of the day though the only one that matters is the goals and we couldn’t manage to get over the line.
“The manager told us in the dressing-room that it doesn’t matter what you say, it isn’t going to make it better. The only thing that can make it better is us. All of us will be looking in the mirror and making sure it doesn’t happen again. We have massive games coming up in the cup and the league. We have always said that was our main focus. We need to make sure what we set out to do at the beginning of the season happens.”