There is another side to Hibernian these days. According to Liam Fontaine, there is a grit and a confidence there that separates this squad of players from the stereotypes that plague the Leith club, and which should help them maintain the kind of run needed to see out the season as serious title challengers.
They are currently on a 16-game unbeaten run and hoping to extend that further with victory against Queen of the South today, leaving themselves perfectly poised for a tilt at their main rivals, Rangers, next week.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily true that we will have a wobble,” said the 29-year-old defender, who joined the club 18 months ago. “People are going to say that, because averages suggest that you are bound to have a wobble at some point. However, we just look at the next game, next game, next game. We don’t look too far down the line and we don’t fear anyone.
“When you play in good teams and good squads, you want to be known for putting together good runs of results and be part of a team which doesn’t lose. I genuinely believe that is the way the gaffer drills things into us. He can see we are all feeling confident.”
That spirit and self-belief manifested itself in a hard-fought point against Falkirk last Saturday. The sending-off of John McGinn in the first half left them on the back foot and by the time Martin Boyle tapped in a 90th-minute equaliser, they were actually down to just nine men due to an injury to Lewis Stevenson.
But there was always an assumption that they would take something from the match. Fontaine said they had been determined not to lose ground on Rangers, whose own draw against Morton prevented that being the case, and they also wanted to help get team-mates McGinn and goalkeeper Mark Oxley off the hook by minimising the damage done by the red card and the conceding of a sloppy goal.
“We got the point and we all came away with the result, solid as a team,” said Fontaine. “I think we showed another side, and that is something we’ve added this year. We always feel like we are in games. After being down to ten men on Saturday and conceding a goal so late on, people could have said ‘unlucky, good effort’ and settled for the point. But we got our goal and, after that, I felt like we could have got another one. Everyone came away happy with the effort and the result.
“It will take all those qualities [to win a league]. That’s probably the biggest difference from us last season. There were a few games last season where we’d concede in the final minutes or towards the end of the game and we would draw or drop points.
“As a squad I definitely feel like we are a stronger squad and a stronger team than last year. With the gaffer and the staff instilling what they want from the players, and how they want us to be around the training ground, you see that pay off at the weekend. We go in confident and I think you need to if you are going to be title winners.”
Which is why he doesn’t have fears about tempting fate and is happy to talk about a race for the title. They may take it game by game but there is also one eye on the bigger picture and rather than intimidate them, Fontaine says the players are excited to be part of one of the most tantalising contests in Scottish football this term.
“To be fair, I knew this season would be very competitive,” he added. “Last season Hearts had their great start and us and Rangers didn’t so they had a big gap to start with, so it was a big ask to try and chase it down. But it’s a competitive league and it makes every game exciting, not just for us out on the pitch, but also fans and any neutral who just enjoys seeing competitive football. You can see it here.
“It’s a great buzz and you just want to be part of it. Until you’re in it I can’t genuinely explain the feeling. I came here – this is my second season – and it’s probably one of the most enjoyable times in my entire career, being at Hibs and trying to achieve what we’re trying to achieve and I’d love it if we could achieve it.
“It is great and as a footballer you want to be involved in these sort of situations. When you finish playing you want to look back and say, ‘I was involved when Hibs were promoted back to the Premiership, when Hibs won the league and trophies or went on a record run that became part of the club’s history’. You want to look back on all these things when you look back. It’s enjoyable to be part of.”