Liam Fontaine is adamant that Hibs remain in prime position to secure promotion despite being pegged back by resurgent Dundee United in recent months.
The defender scoffed at the suggestion that his side are making heavy weather of their title pursuit after their rivals from Tayside, who trailed them by seven points in September, defeated them at Tannadice last Friday to move level on points at the top of the Championship table.
When it was put to Fontaine by a journalist that some Hibs supporters were growing tetchy because their side hadn’t yet taken control of the second tier in the way that eventual winners Hearts and Rangers had done in the previous two seasons, he said: “No I don’t agree with you at all – it’s not that it’s not happening, we are doing well. We are putting points in the board.
“All we can do, all we can worry about is us and what we do. If Dundee United put a run together then they put a run together. But come the end of the season we will see who has been most consistent.”
United manager Ray McKinnon had suggested before last week’s top-of-the-table showdown that Hibs might start to crumble under the pressure of having to secure promotion at the third attempt. Asked if that was a likely scenario, Fontaine replied: “No. I don’t really read anything in the press, to be honest. People have to say what they have to say to get a reaction from certain people and pump people up, and you just have to get on with it.”
Fontaine insists anyone concerned about Hibs’ ability or mentality is barking up the wrong tree.
“I’ve always said we have a great squad,” said the centre-back. “We have so many weapons in our team. You can see that with Martin Boyle playing and keeping Jason Cummings out. James Keatings is on his way back from injury now, I saw him in training and he’s looking sharp.
“We have a lot of options and a lot of strength in our team. The mental strength in our squad is good.”
With more than half the season still to play, Fontaine is comfortable with Hibs’ current position as league leaders on goal difference. He is not flustered by the sight of United embarking on an 11-game unbeaten run and, although disappointed by the result and performance at Tannadice, he stressed that Hibs, unbeaten in six prior to their trip to Tayside, have generally been motoring along nicely themselves since recovering from a four-game winless streak in the autumn which first allowed United to start clawing their way back into contention.
“I’m not surprised at all [that United have gone on a run],” said Fontaine.
“At the end of the day they are going to be a good football team because they are a good club. It’s not really a frustration that they’ve caught up with us. I genuinely just get on with what we are doing. We have been on a great run and it’s only one game we’ve been below par. We haven’t lost many and they [United] have done well themselves. We’re still top of the league.
“It is still very early in the season. There is so much more game time to play.
“Once we get back to the level we have set – and we have to play them again two more times this season – then we have so many more points to play for and we’ll be ready for it.”
Fontaine is confident Hibs, who had won four out of five games prior to Tannadice, can get back on track today when they host a Dumbarton side who were humbled by Junior side Bonnyrigg Rose in the Scottish Cup on Tuesday.
“It was a below-par performance from ourselves [against United], to be honest,” said Fontaine. “The game hinged on two penalties, and I thought we were better in the second half but we were definitely below our usual standards.
“We go away from the game, we learn from it, and we go again. It’s one game – we are getting on with it, we move on.
“We set our standard, and the gaffer demands that of us, and we’ll get back there this weekend. Obviously it is important for us to bounce back and get another three points on the board and just get on with the rest of the season.”