Joël Soumahoro is a bloody record breaker. Let that sink in. 13 assists in a season is a new AJ Auxerre best, eclipsing Jérôme Mombris’ 12. I feel like a proud parent. Little Joël, the lad who was playing in the Côte d’Ivoire Premier Division with Academie de Foot Amadou Diallo just 2 years ago, is all grown up and breaking records in the French 2nd tier. With promotion still looking likely I genuinely wonder whether he can make another step up to the Elite world of Ligue 1. It could happen. He’s also selected in the Team of the Week along with Zoun, after the pair of them linked up twice brilliantly to defeat Chamois Niortais.
But it’s not just Joël that I’m proud of today. Chancel Kasongo is a name that all but the most switched on Auxerre fans have probably forgotten at this point, but when I came in last season to fight the fire that was relegation from Ligue 2, I gave young Chancel his professional debut in the hope that a fresh and creative mind could pull us out of the mire. He certainly did his part and did it well, but ironically had no place in the squad when Joël’s transfer was finalised. He was loaned out for the season to AFC Tubize in the Belgian Pro League B, but they won’t be a Belgian Pro League B team for much longer. Thanks in no small part to their standout French midfielder Kasongo, Tubize are going up to the top tier of Belgian football and I’m fucking delighted for them. Chancel’s only scored a single goal, but he’s assisted 9 more and won 4 Player of the Match awards. I’m going to have some serious assessing to do when he returns in the Summer.
And that’s not all that’s happened in a news-heavy week: A consortium has stepped into the light, led by Lapland-based Dennis Sundberg, with the intention of taking over AJ Auxerre. The rumours about local investment and former footballers have died away in the midst of this news and it seems like the story has momentum, but I’m not sure I’m too pleased. You see, according to the stories I’ve read, Sundberg and Co are looking to invest under £1 Million in our club. I don’t think I’ve moaned about this yet but despite our positive bank balance last Summer and the profits we made in the subsequent transfer windows, the club is now over £3 Million in the red. Even the most optimistic of mathematicians will tell you that all of these numbers don’t add up to a happy ending. I hope that Mr Sundberg, if he does take over our club, has his cheque book ready or we’re in trouble. On the other hand though, the only other Lapland-based business I’ve ever heard of involved a bearded gentleman that shook his belly like a bowlful of jelly and had a taste for cookies and milk, so maybe a Christmas miracle will ease our financial crisis.
And as if there wasn’t enough going on, apparently we’re closing in on an Auxerre wins record and are currently 3 away from levelling our personal best of 22.
We’re travelling to Red Star in search of win number 20 today and I really hope we can find it because we’re in danger of being left behind Bourg-en-Bresse. They won their game in hand and climbed 3 points clear at the top of the season thanks to our loss at Metz. I’ll be so annoyed if that result costs us the title.
I’ve kept an eye on Red Star as I do with all upcoming opponents and they play with a narrow 4-4-2 diamond, which is a formation I’ve not often come up against in my career. It’s a tricky one to counter as usually I’d bring out Project: Burnie Mk III, which allows us to man mark a 4-4-2 strike pair with a spare man, but with the narrow diamond funnelling nearly all the opposition players down the middle I think we’d get overpowered pretty easily. So today calls for a different approach. We’ll go with Project: Meatloaf Mk II, we’ll play on the counter, we’ll be narrow to suffocate their midfield and we’ll exploit the flanks where they’re weak, doubling up with inside forwards and über attacking wingbacks bombing beyond them. I’m making a few changes from the Chamois game but probably not the ones you’re expecting. Tirard and Fomba keep their places after putting in decent shifts while Hikem, Raf and Aidir are dropped after their poor performances to be replaced by Aguilar, Goujon and Ayé, who makes his 150th club appearance. Phil Foden’s on the bench.
We start quickly. We’re happy to play patient passes around the edge of the box until Lamine Fomba spots Issa Samba pelting down the flank. Fomba sprays the ball out wide to him in acres of space and Samba gets a good cross in, but Zoun can only direct his header over the bar from close range.
It takes another 20 minutes before we find the breakthrough and it’s a well practised free kick routine that does it. Tirard passes short to Joël, who plays the ball out wide for Samba. The wing back gets another cross in from the byline and Ayé emerges unmarked at the near post to head the ball home.
7 minutes later it’s becoming painfully clear who’s running the show so far. Issa Samba charges once again down the right wing, loving the freedom of his new attacking wing back role. He skips past the challenge of Al-Abdulrahman and floats a great cross over to the far post. Florian Ayé’s on hand to cushion the ball down and Zoun volleys it, but Tchagouni makes a superb reflex save to keep his side from falling further behind.
A few minutes later Samba has the ball again in an advanced position but this time switches it beautifully to Ruben Aguilar on the left. Aguilar gets the ball out of his feet with his first touch and drills it low with his second, but the shot deflects off a defender and bobbles through to Ayé. He hits it towards the bottom corner but is denied by another terrific save from Tchagouni. We actually do get a chance from the resulting corner when Tirard’s cross is cleared as far as Joël, but the playmaker puts his 20 yard shot over the bar.
We look certain to go in for the break with a narrow lead but in the 45th minute, Corentin Tirard whips a cross in from a free kick on the right wing, Loïc Goujon flicks the ball on and Lamine Fomba places it under the keeper from close range. My fists shoot straight into the air. You’ve no idea how happy it makes me to see those 3 names linking up to score a goal. We take a 2-0 lead into the changing room at half time.
We start the second half just as quickly as we start the first, killing off any plans of an early fight back from Red Star as they struggle to keep us out. The first 5 minutes is one-way traffic and when Tirard’s corner’s cleared to the edge of the box on 50 minutes, Joël brings the ball down and moves it straight on to Zoun on the 6 yard box. He shoots from a narrow angle but only rattles the post. He’s been unlucky so far today but he’s getting in the right positions and that’s pretty reassuring.
Barely a minute later the hosts go close when Pierre-Gabriel finds space on the right and crosses into the box. Bailly nods the ball on and Timite heads at goal, bit Lenogue catches it comfortably.
With 25 minutes to go before the International break I welcome Phil Foden back into the fold. He comes on replacing Corentin Tirard, who in all fairness hasn’t been bad for the last few games, he’s just been quite average. A few minutes later Joël curls the ball onto the right wing into the path of Samba. He crosses once again into the box for Ayé and the striker cushions the ball down for Foden a few yards out – But Foden’s hacked down by a 2 footed challenge. “Come on!” I shout in protest, but I’m immediately drowned out by the sound of the travelling fans’ celebrations as Florian Ayé tucks the ball in himself.
Red Star aren’t going down without a fight though. 90 seconds after our 3rd goal Pierre-Gabriel finds space again and cuts the ball back for Laurent Bailly, who forces a good low save from Xavier Lenogue. They get their reward for persistence a few minutes later. A lovely little move sees Bamba chip the ball to Al-Abdulrahman on the left, who volleys it into the box, where Bailly smashes his volley over Lenogue without the ball touching the floor.
I decide that now’s a good time to bring out a variation of Project: Burnie Mk III and haul off Joël and Zoun to be replaced by Raf and Kakuba. We go to a 3-3-2-1-1 formation with Captiste, Kakuba and Doucouré across the back, Samba, Goujon and Aguilar in front of them, and then Raf and Fomba supporting Foden in the number 10 role and Ayé up top. I am still a little bit gutted for Phil that he was savaged once again and denied a place on the scoresheet because of it, but with 4 minutes to play he puts that right with a 20 yard free kick that he curls beautifully over the wall and into the top corner. Welcome back, you brilliant bastard.
Straight from kick off we see yet more signs of life from Red Star, but when Muyumba chips the ball into the path of the goalscorer Bailly, he skies it over the bar on the volley. We could just wait for the whistle at this point but our inspiration to keep plugging away comes from an unlikely source: Lamine Fomba collects the ball from Raf on the edge of the box and drills in his 2nd goal of the match. 5-1.
The French Football Daily runs with the headline “Fomba Leads The Way For AJ Auxerre” the following morning and my chest swells with pride. I know it’s only one match, but maybe, just maybe Lamine Fomba’s decided to finally turn it on. He was monstrous in midfield today and I hope so much that he keeps going from here.
With the International break upon us I plan on watching some of my players with their national teams, but before I can do that Adama Ba comes knock-knock-knocking on Franjo’s door. Before he even finishes his request for more first team football I send him Captiste’s way. He’s much better at this shit than I am and true to form, he turns Ba’s frown upside down.
Captiste also grabs himself a place in Ligue 2’s Team of the Week, along with fellow defenders Doucouré and Aguilar, midfielders Goujon and Fomba and good old Florian Ayé. Frankly, quite how Issa Samba doesn’t get a spot in that team is beyond me though.
Lamine Fomba also wins 3rd place in March’s Player of the Month, beaten only by former Arsenal forward Giles Sunu and Vincent Thill, the man that embarrassed me in front of all my friends during our match against FC Metz.
I’m delighted on several levels to watch Morocco’s home friendly against Burkina Faso, firstly because Zoun puts in a decent showing despite being horribly misused as a “Right sided midfielder” for the visitors, but also because he ends up playing directly against Morocco’s substitute debutant left back Billy. They have a decent duel down the wing for 35 minutes in the second half before Zoun’s subbed off, with Billy more than holding his own and helping Morocco to snatch a late draw.
With the players back from their respective matches, we get our game faces on. We’re still 3 points behind the insufferable Bourg-en-Bresse but we’ve now got 64 points and 20 wins, so if we can build up some momentum for the run in we can catch them up and go for a couple of club records in one fell swoop. 72 points and 22 wins are the records to aim for.
We host Clermont Foot today and they’re by no means a bad team but their recent form has been patchy to say the least. With Abdoulaye Sissako finally back from injury during the break we’re back to having a full squad to choose from, so I don’t think we’ve got any excuses not to win this.
Project: Meatloaf is on the menu. Clermont play very defensive football in a compact 4-1-4-1 so we’ll need to be at our best to break them down. Our only personnel change from before the break is Phil Foden, who is back to full fitness and takes the place of Corentin Tirard. I’ve not been impressed to be honest.
13 minutes in we win a corner on the right and Phil Foden hits an in-swinger towards the 6 yard box. Clermont’s centre midfielder Richard tries to clear but can only flick the ball on towards Zoun, who heads the ball into Jeannin’s arms. Zoun looks like he’s got something to prove after a frustratingly quiet couple of weeks and receives the ball from Joël on the left wing after about 25 minutes. The Burkinabe winger swips across the defensive line towards the centre and sends a shot careening towards the far top corner, but Jeannin pulls out a top class save to deny him again and tip the ball behind.
Otherwise the first half’s pretty quiet and so is most of the second. On the hour mark and with Ba’s unhappiness and the fact that Hicham Aidir’s been out of my side for what must be a record amount of time both at the forefront of my mind, I bring the pair on in place of Zoun and Ayé and it does seem to spark us into life. With 20 minutes to play Adama Ba slides the ball in front of Lamine Fomba and the midfielder thumps it against the bar from 25 yards. It’s a close one but we’ve been taking too many long shots out of frustration today, unable to break through the visitors’ defensive lines. We switch up to play a higher tempo, pass shorter, roam from our positions, play a more expressive style and work the ball into the box. As the defence begins to tire these changes should pull them around to breaking point.
Sure enough, we have the breakthrough within 5 minutes. It’s a familiar sight from the last couple of matches seeing Fomba play Issa Samba in behind the defence on the right and the full back squares the ball from the byline. Hicham Aidir arrives to poke it into the open net from close range and I’ve already forgotten why I dropped him in the first place.
We revert to our normal style after the goal but Clermont forced to try and push out, we’re 2-0 up within 3 minutes. This time Joël plays a one-two with Fomba and then passes it to Foden with his back to goal on the edge of the box. He turns and rifles the ball towards the far bottom corner and although Jeannin gets a glove to the ball, he can’t stop it from rolling over his hand and in.
And that’s that. With the game wrapped up in a bow I introduce Raf and bring Joël off for a deserved rest. It doesn’t stop the 2 goal scorers from linking up one more time in the 92nd minute though, when Foden lays the ball off for Aidir and the resurgent Moroccan smashes it low towards goal. Again, Jeannin gets a hand to it but again the ball’s only got time for a quick ‘hello’ with the keeper’s fingertips before it has to go and be in the back of the net for me. 3-0 and we’re back at the top of the league. True, Bourg have a game in hand again, but I don’t care about that at the minute. Phil’s back, Hicham’s back and I think I can safely say that AJ Auxerre are back in form.