Liam Fontaine today insisted Hibs have set the standard they must reach every week if they are to fulfil their tag as red-hot favourites for the Championship.
After a “mini-wobble” in which they picked up just three points from four matches, victories against Dunfermline and St Mirren have set the team three points clear of the chasing pack.
It was a defeat by tomorrow’s opponents Ayr United, the only one Neil Lennon’s players have suffered in the Championship so far, which precipitated that bleak period following a turbo-charged start to the season in which they won their first five matches.
But, claimed Fontaine, he and his team-mates have again raised the bar, producing displays over the past couple of weeks more in keeping with the quality within their squad. And the aim is more consistency which, they hope, will begin to ease them away from their Championship rivals.
Adamant that performances even during that win-less spell had actually been better than results might suggest, the defender said: “We need to build on the last couple of results.
“We’ve had a couple of very good performances, even previous to them, but hopefully we can create that tempo, that intensity, that quality again.
“We need to show the standard has been set and to produce the consistency to keep the level high and to keep motivating each other.”
While a sense of injustice still rankles Lennon’s players regarding Ayr’s shock win at Easter Road – Ian McCall’s side fighting back from a goal down after Hibs midfielder Marvin Bartley was sent off only to later have his red card rescinded – Fontaine was adamant three points will more than meet any thought of revenge.
“That’s football,” said the 30-year-old. “We’re just hoping to set off on another good run of results.”
As happy as he has been with the last couple of displays from his squad, Lennon has admitted he’d liked to have seen what he described as a “bit more gloss” on the final scoreline against the Buddies, a point Fontaine accepted.
He said: “Their goalkeeper made a few good saves and fair play to him, but I can understand why the gaffer is saying that. If we perform like that you’d like to see us put a few more away. But the main thing is the three points. We kept a clean sheet and if we don’t concede then we’ll have a massive chance to win games especially with the attacking players we have.
“It would, though, be nice to go and, as the gaffer has said, put a lick of gloss on our performances.”
It’s been said more than once already this season that Hibs feel someone is going to suffer sooner rather than later, a view which Fontaine shares. But they haven’t yet been able to emulate their 4-0 win over Morton in which the goals were shared among four different players.
He said: “I think if you see the way we play that, when everything does click on any given day, then that could happen, without a doubt.
“But the first thing, for me personally, is not to concede and if we go the rest of the season winning 1-0 I wouldn’t quibble. However, if we can get the ultimate performance with lots of goals – well that’s what every football team in the world craves.”
While top scorer Jason Cummings has been left cooling his heels on the bench these past two weeks, Lennon believing the 21-year-old has been a bit off colour recently, veteran hitman Grant Holt has scored in each of the games and might have made it three had he not had a second-half penalty saved by Buddies goalkeeper Jamie Langfield.
But, revealed Fontaine, the 35-year-old former Norwich City striker, who once commanded a £3 million transfer fee, is also having as big an impact in the Easter Road dressing room.
With Fontaine having recovered from a calf injury which kept him out for two months, Lennon has reverted to three at the back, a formation which served Hibs well earlier in the season.
Fontaine, though, insisted he and his team-mates were comfortable whichever system their manager decides to play.
He said: “We’ve won with four at the back as well so it’s good to have different options. We’ve got a lot of versatile players who can play in different positions and even when the opposition see our teamsheet before a game they’ll probably be left guessing at times as to how we are actually going to play.”
Fontaine, however, insisted the club’s defensive record – the best in Britain bar Tottenham Hotspur’s – isn’t based solely on those directly in front of goalkeeper Ofir Marciano, bit from much further forward with Holt showing the way.
He said: “Grant is a great example. You see his level of fitness, his desire, his professionalism.
“He’s had a terrific influence with his experience. You see him having a word with certain players if he feels he has spotted something that’s going to benefit not just them but the team. He’s a great character to have around the place.”
Tomorrow’s trip to Somerset Park will be Hibs’ first on league business since February, 1999, when a Stevie Crawford hat-trick earned Alex McLeish’s side a 13th successive victory as they strolled to the old First Division title and promotion.
But while it will be a first for some of his team-mates – although the club’s longest-serving player Lewis Stevenson made his first-team debut there 11 years ago – Fontaine has experienced a pre-season friendly at the antiquated ground, one he revealed he actually took a liking to.
He said: “The surroundings are obviously a bit different to modern stadiums but I quite like some of the old-fashioned grounds and the atmosphere they can create.
“The dressing-rooms are a bit cramped – there’s a few like that in this league – but at the end of the day there’s the green pitch, the white lines and it’s up to us to get the job done.”
Fontaine also admitted that in a league where clubs play each other four times, it was quite refreshing to come up against different opposition as he recalled the number of times Hibs faced Rangers and Falkirk over the past couple of seasons.
However, he insisted, they won’t be treated any differently, saying: “We’ll have done our research on them and know their game. But it’s what we do and getting it right like we have in the last couple of games.”