Liam Fontaine admits the Championship race will be a close shave between Hibs, Rangers and Falkirk, with just three points separating the sides as they head into the final straight.
But while he believes only a hair’s breadth may separate Hibs and the Bairns when they meet for the third time this season, the big defender insisted the outcome of tomorrow’s match won’t put either side out of the title chase.
Peter Houston’s outfit have quietly crept up on the two Championship favourites, an unbeaten run stretching back to October when a controversial Jason Cummings penalty earned Hibs victory, and have overtaken the Edinburgh club in second place on goal difference.
And to underline just how important the clashes between the top three are likely to be, the only games Rangers have lost have been against Hibs and Falkirk while Alan Stubbs’ side’s only defeats were at the hands of the Ibrox club. The Bairns have only lost to their title rivals.
In that regard all three boast impressive records making it, Fontaine insisted, all the more important he and his team-mates come out on top in such matches with both Falkirk and Rangers still to travel to Easter Road before the season ends.
He said: “I don’t think whoever loses the game tomorrow is out of the title race at all although Rangers would probably be looking for a draw.
“There is still a lot to happen this season and a lot of football to play. Whatever the results over the weekend, they won’t determine the outcome of the league.
“Falkirk are a very organised side and they have a goalscorer. If you have that you are half way there. They have been doing well, fair play, but so are we and Rangers. Come April and May, we’ll know more.
“If you are going to win the league you have to be better than the teams around you. When we come up against Rangers and Falkirk, we will need to come out on top to go above them. You can’t expect them to lose against the other teams in the league – you need to win those games.
“We’ll go there confident, we have had good results in the past. It’s a good surface, one of the better 4G pitches, and hopefully we will see a good match.”
It was a view shared by boss Alan Stubbs who said: “I said weeks and months ago that they [Falkirk] would be in there.
“All the talk has been about ourselves and Rangers. But they have been going along and picking up results week in week out, they were never going to go away.
“This will be a difficult game. But it will be a difficult game for them as well.
“Our squads and the quality within them over the course might prove a deciding factor. But as we speak right now they have a huge say in what is going to happen.
“I know people might discount them, but you can’t, because their form has been so consistent and so good. Peter has rightly won Manager of the Month, it was totally deserved.
“They have all been rewarded with new contracts, which tells you the progress they have made. So hats off to them, they are a hard team to beat.
“They are very well organised, they have some good individual players. They have a fantastic work ethic amongst them. And when you have got that, you are going to get results more often than not.”
Given Hibs have lost just once in 20 matches, some may feel Fontaine was risking his own “Samson-like” qualities in shaving off his trademark beard, a notion he dismissed in pointing out that the solitary defeat happened while it was still in place.
But he chose to remove it in the full glare of the cameras having made the decision to raise funds for the Sick Kids’ Foundation which, at the last count, had pulled in £2120 from 164 donations.
Having initially set a target of £1000, the 30-year-old admitted he was taken aback by the level of support he’s received – revealing Hearts fans have donated to his Just Giving page.
He said: “To double that is fantastic for a great cause and it will be good for them.
“We get to see them at Christmas and get to see the work they do while I personally went to open a new section at the hospital in Livingston.
“My younger sister had a premature baby who was looked after by a similar set-up. So, playing for a club in Edinburgh, I wanted to do something for the Edinburgh sick kids.
“The beard has been growing for five months. I’ve had to give it a little trim on occasion, just to look presentable, but something really good had come from it.
“I’m lucky enough to be in a position – with followers on Twitter and things – that these things can snowball if you get them going. That has been the case. It’s only a shave, at the end of the day, and it’s made over two grand for a worthy cause.
“It feels strange, it’s the first time I have felt my chin in a while. I’ll be honest, I did become attached to the beard ... literally! But it is a good cause and I can always grow another one.
“I’ve not seen every single donation but I’ve seen a few which have said ‘from a Jambo’ or whatever, so it has brought everyone together, which this thing tends to do in football.”