Liam Fontaine wouldn’t claim it was worth the wait, but the Hibs defender is delighted the patience he’d shown in recovering from injury paid off in the shape of not only his first game in more than two months but a much-needed victory for Neil Lennon’s side.
The Easter Road defender, however, would insist his return to action and the end of a five-match winless streak was purely coincidental, having witnessed at first-hand those games and sharing his team-mates’ claims that they hadn’t got as much as they deserved from them.
But now, he believes, the 3-1 win against Dunfermline can be the spark for the Capital club who now sit three points clear at the top of the Championship table, a narrower advantage than many might have thought when they won their first five league games, but one which Fontaine insists is fully merited.
“It was great to be back in – and with a win,” he said, “I’d been out for a bit longer than I first expected to be, but I have done my hard work and was delighted the gaffer put me in.”
Coincidentally, the 30-year-old’s last appearance had been in Hibs’ first home league game of the season when the Pars were also Hibs’ opponents, a calf injury then putting him out of action.
As tempting as it might have been, Fontaine was determined not to rush his return, aware that the strength in depth of Lennon’s squad could well mean a hasty comeback which resulted in a further injury could see him sidelined for an even longer period.
He said: “I thought I’d be out for a month, to be honest. I don’t know how the injury happened, but they do.
“I dealt with it the right way to come back strong. We have a squad big enough to cope so I wanted to wait until I was ready and I’m glad I did.
“You want to come back stronger whenever you are injured and that’s what I did.”
Although he’d returned to training before the no-scoring draw against Raith Rovers the week before, Fontaine’s return was delayed another seven days, allowing him to play 63 minutes of a midweek development squad game against Motherwell in which he scored the opening goal in a 3-0 win.
He said: “I wasn’t match fit for Raith so I played with the Under-20s and to then play the full 90 minutes for the first team and win was great.”
It was a victory, though, that Fontaine felt was long overdue, the former Bristol City skipper saying: “It’s hard sitting out, ask any player having to watch is the most horrible part of being injured.
“But you can learn a lot from watching as well. I went to quite a lot of the games, away as well, watching you can see what we are trying to do.
“The lads have been playing well but the results hadn’t been coming. However, we knew if we kept at it – we’re a good squad with good players – that we won’t let anyone in the league stand in our way.”
Going a goal down to a highly controversial first-half Kallum Higginbotham penalty was a test of character for Lennon’s players, particularly given the outcome of their previous matches but, insisted Fontaine, the fightback after the interval showed what this Hibs squad is all about.
He said: “I don’t know what the penalty was for, but I’m not going into it. It was given and refs aren’t going to change their minds.
“Watch the game and you’d see us rallying around each other and, credit to us, we stuck at it. I thought we’d done okay in the first half but in the second we were very good – you could visibly see our strength, power, pace and use of the ball.
“Our composure and quality on the ball second half was, in my opinion, was why we went on to win 3-1 and that was thoroughly deserved.
“We knew if we got one we’d go on and get more – and it could have been more than three.”
Hibs did need a wicked deflection off Pars defender Nat Wedderburn which took James Keatings’ shot beyond goalkeeper Sean Murdoch but, argued Fontaine, it was the slice of luck which the Capital side haven’t enjoyed for a while.
He said: “Keats is always dangerous, he can whip a ball in from anywhere. Yes, it took a deflection, but sometimes you need that bit of luck.
“But even beforehand you could feel it was coming, the pressure was building and eventually it did and we went on to get two more.”
The second goal came via the penalty spot, Grant Holt converting, but Fontaine reckoned the determination to win was underlined by the nature of their third goal, midfielder Andrew Shinnie cutting the ball back for substitute Brian Graham fire home deep into added-on time.
He said: “I think most people thought we’d just keep it in the corner and try to run down the clock. But Andrew did well, lays it on a plate for Brian who finishes like any good striker would. I think it put a fairer reflection on the scoreline, but whether we won 3-1 or 1-0 just getting the result was the main things because, as I’ve said, performances, bar one which wasn’t in the league, have been good. So I think we got what we have been deserving in our last three or four games.”
An added bonus was the discovery that both Falkirk and Queen of the South had dropped points. Fontaine added: “That was good for us, but there’s still along way to go. We’re top of the league because we deserve to be there and after a spell when we’ve not been getting the results this give us a chance to put another run together, that’s the hope.”