Don’t panic. Nobody panic. Deep breaths. Yes, we’ve lost ground in our quest for survival. Yes, Godspower Tower will be missing for our crucial away match against RC Strasbourg Alsace after suffering a tear to his knee ligaments. Yes, Abdoulaye Sissako and Loïc “The Deep Fried Demon” Goujon are both suspended and will also miss our final match. Yes, if we fail to better Groupe Sportif Consolat’s and La Berrichonne’s results we’ll drop into the relegation play off spot. Yes, the pressure is absolutely back on. But… I’ve forgotten where I was going with that.
RC Strasbourg are 13th in Ligue 2 and we could really do with beating them today, as that’s the only way our League status will be in our own hands. We’re on 41 points, so a draw would leave us open to the unlikely but possible scenario of one or both of the teams directly below us, who are both on 40 points, dropping us into the shit by winning their own games. Losing this final away match just isn’t even worth thinking about.
Most of my changes are forced, as I’ve mentioned. I’m keeping the system the same but I’ll be bringing in Cameroonian centre back Harvey Ndicka to replace Godspower Tower. Ndicka is in a similar mould to the injured Nigerian, a defensive centre back that’s fairly uncomfortable on the ball but has a hell of an aerial reach and great strength and leadership. He doesn’t have Tower’s sense of positioning though, which combined with his lack of any real pace is concerning, as in the likely event that he’s caught out of position he won’t be fast enough to chase down the opposition player and recover the ball.
Coming in at defensive midfield for the suspended Goujon is Albert Rafetraniaina, who I’ll be addressing as Raf, because otherwise I’ll use up a whole season’s worth of vowels by the time we get to October. Replacing Sissako in the middle will be Lamine Fomba, who would’ve probably started both of my matches so far in Sissako’s place had he not been suspended. Fomba both excites me and concerns me as on paper he’s probably one of our best players: A technically proficient, mentally mature and physically dominating box to box midfielder with a never say die attitude. His form this season however has been abysmal, which I’m willing to overlook on a one time only basis for this match because I need him and hope he turns up. His contract runs out next month though so this is really his only chance to impress me enough to give him a new one.
Finally, I’m giving senior wing back Mombris a start at left back ahead of young Hikem due to his poor form, and rapid winger Zoun will get the chance to impress me from the start in place of Ibrahim Sangaré.
There’s early action somewhere, but it isn’t in our match. Over at the Stade de l’Aube our local rivals ESTAC Troyes have taken the lead over our relegation rivals La Berrichonne after just 3 minutes through Petar Tanasic. My assistant Raphaël Guerreiro’s keeping an eye on the scores for us and that is very welcome news.
A quarter of an hour later we win a corner after Tirard’s shot is deflected behind. Tirard’s initial corner is cleared but is passed back to him on the right wing. He drills the ball into the box and Ayé blasts it in at near post to put us ahead. He sprints over to the travelling support and slides on his knees in front of them as I allow myself a hopeful smile. That’s Aye’s 50th goal for us and what a time to get it.
5 minutes later Raphaël brings more good news from elsewhere: Théophile Lallemand has given Bourg-en-Bresse Péronnas 01 the lead over our fellow relegation candidates Group Sportif Consolat. This could not be going better for us.
The rest of the half plays out in similar fashion to my first match here; Tight, scrappy, nothing to write home about. Just what I wanted. The second half is much of the same. At the Stade de l’Aube Troyes go 2-0 up over La Berrichonne, who claw it back to 2-1 late on. Here in Strasbourg, we stay strong and continue to fight. I don’t want to rock the boat, so I do nothing. And the boat stays afloat.
As a neutral I probably would’ve wanted the relegation fight to be closer on the final day, but as Groupe Sportif Consolat had vastly inferior goal difference to La Berrichonne, they were always claiming the play off spot if they lost. After all of my final day nerves, we finish 4 points above them both in 16th place. I rolled the dice joining Auxerre, knowing full well that it could all go wrong inside the first few matches. For now though my gamble’s paid off. Auxerre will play Ligue 2 football next season and with that realisation, another hits me. Now, for the first time in my career, I’ve won more relegation battles than I’ve lost. What a feeling. What a year.