LIAM Fontaine believes Hibernian can emulate their city rivals Hearts and go through the second half of the season unbeaten.
The Tynecastle team, who are at home to Hibs on Saturday, are 15 points clear of Rangers at the top of the Championship and unbeaten in 18 games. By contrast Hibs, who are another four points further behind, have already lost five times.
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But Fontaine thinks Hearts’ example can be an inspiration to his own club, and he believes that, after winning their last three matches, he and his team-mates are now playing well enough to set off on a long unbeaten run of their own.
“I think we are,” the centre-half said. “I think the fact that they’ve done it proves that it can be done, so why can’t another team do it? And why can’t it be us? We should be confident enough to believe that.”
Of course, given the extent of Hearts’ lead, Hibs could conceivably not suffer another defeat yet still finish some way off the pace. Fontaine knows his club need to concentrate on their own form rather than worry about what the leaders are doing, but thinks that an away win on Saturday could just inspire other teams to raise their games against Hearts.
“Whatever Hearts do is whatever Hearts do. We can’t affect it, apart from when we play them. If they drop points it’s up to us to keep putting our points on the board.
“If we can be the first team to beat them, then obviously other teams see that they are beatable. Any team’s beatable. It’s just that they haven’t had their moment yet, and hopefully they will have one and we won’t and we can carry on.
“We just go into every game, whether Hearts or the lower teams in the league, with the same sort of mentality and incentive. It’s going to be a great occasion, because it’s at Tynecastle and the atmosphere will be great. It’s a good one for all the Edinburgh fans.
“Any time is a good time to play Hearts. We just want to get another three points on the board – that’s our main incentive. Just go and do what we’ve been doing recently.
“They’ve been going well. If we can produce another performance like we did against Rangers, it will be a good match for everyone that’s there and watching. It’ll be a great occasion.”
The 4-0 win against Rangers five days ago followed previous wins over Raith Rovers and Alloa, and showcased a Hibs team who were in far more assertive mood than had been the case earlier in the season – or indeed at almost any time during the previous two or three seasons. “We look stronger and more assured and very confident,” Fontaine continued.
“Everyone on the pitch feels confident, and in the dressing-room. It’s all round the club. We all know our roles, and the gaffer encourages us to play our way and play his style of game, and it worked really well against Rangers. The performance was probably our best all-round performance in any one game.”
Although he was briefly on loan to Kilmarnock nearly a decade ago, Fontaine was an unknown quantity as far as the game up here was concerned when he joined Hibs in the summer from Bristol City. Similarly, he was not at all familiar with Scottish football. But, since making his debut in a League Cup win over Dumbarton in August, he has settled in quickly, thanks in large part, as he explained, to manager Alan Stubbs.
“It’s been great in my time here. I’m really enjoying playing my football again and playing here. I enjoy the club and I enjoy the gaffer, and his way and mentality and the club and the lads is great for me personally.
“It’s all about a good feel in the dressing room and around the club. It’s all about performing our best game week in, week out, and I think you can see we’re doing that at the moment.
“From a personal point of view I just think you can buzz off certain people, and I get a buzz off the way the gaffer works – his passion for wanting to win and for his game that he believes is the right way to play. We’re enjoying our football.
“Everyone’s playing with freedom, and we’re getting goals from all round the pitch – we’ve got full-backs scoring, centre-backs, midfielders, strikers. Everyone’s trying to get in on what the manager’s trying to do.
“It’s a good feeling, a good vibe. We have good banter in the training ground, on and off the pitch.”
Apart from Stubbs’ infectious self-confidence, there would appear to be no magic formula responsible for that “good vibe”, and Hibs have not even taken part in the traditional team-bonding exercises that so many clubs engage in. “We did our usual Christmas thing and that was it,” Fontaine added. “When the boxing was on a few of us had a get-together and watched that.
“We have a little thing we do in the training ground before training and it works.”
But what sort of ‘little thing’?, the 28-year-old was asked. And exactly how and why did it work?
“Can’t tell you that,” he replied. “It’s a secret.”
If Hibs keep winning, though, you suspect it’s not going to remain a secret for very long.
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