“I wouldn’t worry about it, Hicham,” I reassure him, handing the striker a cup of tea and taking my own round to the other side of my desk. “Every striker goes through a bit of a quiet spell. And every winger, midfielder, defender, keeper… Everyone has rough patches. Did I ever tell you about a certain 3 months of my spell in Katowice?”
“I think so”, he replies, blowing on his tea to cool it down, “No wins?”
“Not a one. It’s frustrating but you do come through it eventually. Unless you’re Nikica Jelavić. Nikica Jelavić is the only one I can think of who never came through it.” I grin at Hicham, who chuckles quietly before taking a sip of his tea. “I just wanted to have a chat and make sure you’re not beating yourself up over it, that’s all.”
Hicham nods. “It is frustrating but I’ll come through it. Thanks boss.”
I don’t worry about Hicham Aidir. I know full well that he’ll be banging them in again soon as long as he backs himself. For the time being though I’m going to give him a bit of a different role for our next match against RC Strasbourg. Strasbourg are down in the relegation zone after a difficult first half of the season in which they were projected to finish in lower midtable. We’ll be starting with a standard Project: Meatloaf with Lenogue in net, Samba, Captiste, Doucouré and Hikem across the back, Fomba and Raf in midfield and Foden, Joël and Ba behind Aidir. Seeing as Aidir’s not scored and frankly hasn’t played at all well in 6 games now, he’ll play as a target man today. If he isn’t scoring we can at least get him involved and use his physical presence to hold the ball up so that he can play in his team mates. We’ll need to get plenty of bodies around him as Strasbourg play with an intriguing 3-2-3-2 featuring a sweeper, so if anything they have too many players in defence.
Their 8 man defence doesn’t help them in the early stages. It takes 7 minutes for us to break Strasbourg’s resolve when Hikem’s outswinging corner is headed clear as far as Issa Samba. The right back takes the ball down well, steps into the box and clips it into the top corner. The early goal settles us down nicely and we dominate the first half hour with the visitors barely able to get a look in.
With 10 minutes to go before half time, Foden whips a cross in from the right and Ba arrives at the far post to get a header on goal, but Konaté heads it off the line. He does well but not well enough, as he realises when the ball bounces straight back to Ba and he volleys in our 2nd from close range. Less than 2 minutes later we go 3 up courtesy of a long Foden ball from a deep free kick that’s nodded on into the 6 yard box by Captiste and tucked home by the unmarked Faouzi Hikem. What a first half.
Strasbourg start the second half much better but don’t really manage any good chances. The next best chance is ours once again when Foden hits a free kick from 25 yards out, curling it against the bar. The ball’s cleared but we work it back up to the box where Foden gets back on it. He squares it for Joël, who puts his laces through the ball from the edge of the box, sending it fizzing into the bottom corner for 4-0. This is an absolute massacre. I give a run out to François for the last 20 minutes and we come away from the game with a resounding win.
While we were busy giving Strasbourg plenty of kick off practice, 3rd place Bourg-en-Bresse were defeating League leaders Angers SCO, which suits us perfectly as we were previously below Angers on goal difference and above Bourg on goal difference. That result lifts us back up to the top of the table, with Bourg-en-Bresse snapping at our heels just 7 goals behind. Angers actually slip down to 4th below Stade de Reims, who beat CS Sedan Ardennes to join the top 3 party. Seriously though, the top 4’s starting to break away from the rest and it’s getting pretty heated up here.
Unsurprisingly over half of that dominant Auxerre team make it into the Ligue 2 Team of the Week, including the entire back 4 of Samba, Captiste, Doucouré and Hikem, who are joined by Joël Soumahoro and Adama Ba. It’s actually a bit disappointing that Phil Foden isn’t thought to warrant a place as he had a great game, and although Hicham Aidir’s performance as a target man was much better than he’s turned in in a few weeks, there’s no room in the league’s elite side for him either.
Next up is CS Sedan Ardennes at their place, fresh from the aforementioned defeat against Stade de Reims. Our form’s still a little bit hit and miss so another win today would be much appreciated. 3 wins in a row would represent some much needed consistency and momentum.
We’ll be without last match’s first goalscorer Issa Samba as the booking he picked up against Strasbourg took him to 3 in his last 10, so Ruben Aguilar comes in. Other than that though we’re unchanged.
It’s a scrappy start with both teams prodding and testing each other out in the opening stages. The first decent chance is Aldo Kalulu’s pot shot 25 yards out from our goal, but he puts it wide. 10 minutes later though Ardennes’ centre back Milan hoofs the ball into our box for Kalulu to chase and as he gets to the ball, he’s tripped by Captiste. The home side have a penalty. Kalulu steps up himself and powerfully converts the spot kick to the top left of Lenogue’s goal. 0-1.
We were undone by a long ball into a channel while our defence was pushed a bit too high, so we go on the counter and play a bit narrower after the goal, but at half time we’re still trailing. I try to give the lads some quiet confidence by telling them that they’ve been unlucky, but 15 seconds after the restart Kalulu tees up Konaté on the edge of our box, who drives the ball low at goal and forces a good save from Lenogue. That could’ve been game over.
10 minutes later we still aren’t getting a sniff apart from the odd pot shot. Faupala barges down the wing past Aguilar with power and whips a cross in from the left byline, which Bettoni meets at the far post, nodding the ball into the back of the net for 0-2. Bollocks. We go all out attack from that point on, pushing our defensive line further up, closing down more to try and win the ball back further up the pitch. None of it’s to any avail. I bring on Zoun for Foden on the right as an extra injection of pace, but still nothing.
With 25 minutes to go Kalulu plays a fantastic ball into the box for Bettoni. The winger’s 12 yards out and has the whole goal to aim at. He has to score – But he skies his shot. That’s the last real action of the match and the only positive to come out of this game is that it finishes 0-2 and not 0-3, because it really should be.
I feel like I’m digging a hole on the beach while the tide’s coming in. At times it seems like a perfectly good hole but then a wave comes along, fills it half back up with sand and I’m just left to shrug my shoulders and start digging again. It’s quite infuriating that we can’t put a run of results together. Don’t get me wrong, that loss leaves us in 2nd place in the league and that still absolutely eclipses my earlier expectations for this season, but when you’ve got a squad of such clear quality you need consistency. I don’t know, maybe I’m overthinking it again, that’s only our 5th loss in almost half a season after all. Time will tell I suppose. We’ve now got 3 matches to go before the winter break and I want 9 points on the board so that we can take some momentum into 2022. Let’s get it done.