Well, it’s official: Xavier Lenogue’s 16 clean sheets is a new Domino’s Ligue 2 record. FC Metz’ (Who just happen to be our next opponents) keeper Darko Dejanovic held the record for 2 years but has been surpassed by Lenogue and his band of ridiculous defenders. Joël’s nearing his record too and after setting up Aidir against Orléans he’s now just 1 behind our retiring left back Mombris’ 12 assists in a season.
So let’s talk FC Metz. They’re a decent mid-table side and we thrashed them 3-0 in the reverse fixture, so today represents a chance to build up a bit of momentum. We’ll be without Abdoulaye Sissako in midfield as his injury picked up against Orléans has been confirmed as a sprained ankle and will keep him out for 4-5 weeks, which is certainly a blow, but Hikem and Raf are back in contention after completing their suspensions. Loïc Chicken Goujon’s back in full training but this match comes a little bit too soon for him, so he won’t be risked from the start.
With Metz unlikely to field a striking partnership and warrant 3 centre backs we’re reverting to our attacking Project: Meatloaf for this one. This means that one of our centre backs needs to drop to the bench and as much as it pains me, Mike Kakuba’s the one. I can’t drop Doucouré as he never seems to do anything wrong whatsoever and even though I’ve forgiven him, Kakuba did give away that penalty against Ajaccio, so Captiste is ousting him. Faouzi Hikem, Raf, Zoun and (Brace yourselves) Corentin Tirard return to the first team on place of Ruben Aguilar, Abdoulaye Sissako and Florian Ayé. This is Corentin’s very last chance to impress and he gets the nod today purely because I’d like a left footer to replace Foden on the right, but if he’s as lacklustre as he has been in previous games he’s played for me, he’s done at Auxerre. It’s also worth mentioning that even though Lamine Fomba keeps his place today I’m really starting to run out of patience with him too. He’s done some good here and there this season but given that he’s arguably one of the most talented players in the squad, he should be doing a lot better. He’s actually my 5th choice central midfielder now after dropping below Sissako, Raf, Joël and Goujon in the pecking order. We’ve got plenty of talented kids waiting patiently in the reserves and unless Lamine starts showing me more I’ll be giving them a try.
In under 18 minutes we’re a goal down. We push too far forward and allow the hosts to break. Larrodo’s diagonal ball onto the left is latched onto by Bazile, he whips a great cross in from the byline and Thill pops up to head home from close range. You’d think that because I recognised that we pushed too far forward, I’d do something about it tactically. I don’t though and less than 10 minutes later we’re 0-2 down. Taking advantage of our defence’s high line, Soudani chips a ball straight over the top and Thill controls it well and calmly finds the bottom corner. Bollocks.
And so about 10 minutes after the nick of time, I spring into action. We go on the counter. Tirard and Zoun swap wings and play as out and out wingers while Aidir will hold the ball up as a lone target man. I’m not sure if our chance of a result has already slipped away though.
It certainly seems like it. Our only semi-meaningful contribution of the half is when Hicham Aidir dribbles forward and tries his luck from 35 yards, but Darko Dejanovic catches it comfortably. At half time I’m honestly sympathetic towards the players. This deficit is my doing, going all gung-ho away from home against a decent team.
In the 53rd minute the hosts are toying with us. Kums plays a pinpoint pass through the left channel for Bazile, who smashes the ball at goal and is denied by a good parry from Lenogue. We’ll try to exploit the flanks to bypass their defensive midfield pairing but we’re still really struggling to find a foothold.
With half an hour to play we do go close. Joël chips a nice ball into the box for Aidir to run onto and the Moroccan drills it towards the bottom corner, but Dejanovic saves well. From the resulting corner Tirard swings a decent cross in for our striker but Hicham’s header flashes wide of the far post.
In desperation we go 4-4-2, sacrificing Raf for Florian Ayé. We go back on the attack and play more direct to the big men up top. Apart from a Thill potshot 10 minutes later though, the match is dead. A deserved 0-2 loss.
So what have we learned? Well for one thing, don’t start gloating about how much better your keeper is at keeping clean sheets than a rival keeper right before you play the rival keeper’s fucking team. That’s a good rule of thumb. And definitely don’t go out to attack a good team on their turf. That was a rookie error. Lastly, don’t give your players “One last chance” to impress you and then fuck the match up yourself. There’s a lot to be learned here actually.
Fortunately we have a chance to bounce back before the international break starts and I want 2 wins from the 2 matches we have before the players jet off. The squads have been named and in terms of Auxerre players, Zoun, Raf, Ba and Doucouré are all off to join up with their national sides, while interestingly our loaned out full back Billy gets his first Morocco call up for his good form in Belgium. There’s no such call up for Hicham Aidir though.
And we will bounce back. We’d better anyway. Chamois Niortais are not a good side. They’re languishing just above the relegation zone and I want to make up for that loss with a thumping win to deepen their relegation fears. Phil Foden’s thankfully back in full training but he won’t be fit enough to play today.
So as we’ve established, I made a right dick of myself in the Metz game. After giving ultimatums to 2 of my players, the blame for the loss ended up falling well and truly on my shoulders, so here’s what I’ll do: I am making no changes whatsoever. I won’t hold that result against any of the players and they’ll get another chance to impress me today. A home match against Chamois Niortais is a much more appropriate time to go out on the front foot and it’s a great opportunity for Lamine and Corentin to win me over.
Fomba shows a great glimpse of quality for our first chance on goal: He dinks the ball beautifully onto Aidir’s left foot and the big striker shapes his body well to volley it goalwards, but it just misses the bottom left corner. 10 minutes before the break though a couple of our in form players get us off the mark. Joël squares the ball for Zoun 20 yards out and our nippy winger finds the top right corner. Postage stamp.
In first half injury time El Hajhouj turns Captiste inside out with some fancy footwork to make some space on the edge of our box, but he spoons his shot over the bar. He’s ruing his missed opportunity as we enter the 2nd minute of injury time when Joël harries an opposition midfielder to win the ball high up, plays a one-two with Aidir, lofts a great through ball into the path of Zoun on the left, who buries it to double his tally. We go in for the break on the right side of a 2-0 lead this time.
10 minutes after the game gets back underway, Raf plays a long ball onto the left for the electric Zoun to chase. The keeper Racciopi runs out onto the wing to clear his lines but Raf has the sheer audacity to volley the ball straight back towards goal from the half way line. My heart stops. The keeper’s beaten… But it’s heading wide. Out of nowhere, Hicham Aidir latches onto the ball and tries a shot from a tight angle… And hits the post. That could’ve been the moment of the season. Raf, you rascal.
Aidir’s not had a great couple of matches to be honest. I bring him off with 25 minutes to play to see if Ayé can do any better. That’s pretty much that though. Rocheteau tests Lenogue with a decent effort late on and Goujon and Aguilar make late appearances, but we come away with a thoroughly acceptable 2-0 victory. Joël and Zoun have, as usual, been far more than acceptable. They both put in exemplary performances today.
And now we wait with bated breath to see whether we’ll keep our 3 point lead at the top of Ligue 2. Bourg are currently 3 points behind but they do have a hugely important game in hand. Fingers crossed they fuck it up.