Lads, break out the wine and let the streets of Auxerre run burgundy with the stuff! Bourg-en-Bresse have finally lost and the Domino’s Ligue 2 title is Auxerre’s to lose once more. With 6 games to go both we and our title rivals are on 67 points, but with our 25 goal superior goal difference we’re essentially a point ahead. I’d like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Stade Malherbe Caen for their contribution to our season, because Bourg were on a terrific run and they took some stopping.
I’ve given Bourg a lot of stick but both sides at the top are having fantastic seasons. Even though we finished 16th last season we were predicted for a 7th place finish, which makes our rise to the top impressive but nothing on Bourg. They finished a single place above us last season and were predicted to stay exactly where they were, so for them to be in this title race we’re really bordering on Leicester City in the Premier League territory. It’s a fantastic achievement. Meanwhile, we’re now just 5 points away from our record points tally of 72.
The Coupe de la Ligue is over and it’s the scrappy underdogs at Paris Saint-Germain that’ve snatched the cup, beating Toulouse in the final. I’m happy for them that they can finally get some use out of that trophy cabinet. What a breath of fresh air.
Phil Foden’s back and is straight into the Team of the Week after his great performance against Clermont, while his equally impressive team mate Joël is gunning for the Ligue 2 record of 14 assists in a single season and is currently 2 away from levelling it.
There may have been a potential hiccup with Dennis Sundberg’s proposed takeover of our club though, which has dampened spirits somewhat. Apparently the Lapland-based consortium might not have enough money to complete the transaction and you can see why that might be a problem.
There’s nothing we can do about off-field problems though so we turn our attention back to the pitch. Groupe Sportif Consolat’s pitch specifically where we’ll look to finally open some distance between us and Bourg. We could also equal the club record 22 wins in a season with 3 points today.
GSC usually line up with a narrow diamond and I lick my lips at the prospect of coming up against another one of those, having seen off Red Star 5-1 not long ago who used the same shape. We’ll use the same narrow, counter attacking Project: Meatloaf Mk II system with attacking wing backs that we used that day and we’ll look for a similar result. Hicham Aidir is back in the starting XI as a reward for his impressive display from the bench last week, while Zoun comes out for a rest, with his form having dropped a bit. Adama Ba comes in on the left, while Sissako makes the bench after his recent injury woes.
GSC are the first to fire a warning shot just 2 minutes after we get underway. Bourniet sends a good corner flying awkwardly across our goal and Lenogue’s beaten in the air by Satli, but the centre back glances his header just wide of the far post. Only a few minutes later they’re pushing again, this time with a good cross from Mazikou, deep on the left wing. Leclere runs towards the far post to try to latch onto the ball but he’s shoved clumsily to the floor by Ruben Aguilar. The full back knows that his place in the starting 11 is far from secure at the best of times and his head goes straight into his hands as the referee points to the spot. Faucher steps up and slides the ball confidently into the bottom left corner to put the hosts ahead.
10 minutes later the game’s devolved into a hoofball match with the ball being pinged from end to end without any sense of control. Finally though it’s Auxerre that get it on the floor and start playing a bit more through Aguilar on the left. Eager to make up for his mistake in our area he cuts in and plays an excellent through ball into Aidir’s path and the striker hits it past Bozic’s outstretched glove first time to equalise. If I had a list of all the players’ names, I’d be scribbling over the frowny face next to Ruben’s and replacing it with a smiley one. I don’t though, so I just give him a thumbs up and a wink.
The most pleasantly surprising part is what happens straight from kick off. We win the ball back and Adama Ba chips it up the left wing for Aidir, who nods it on and chases the ball down to the byline. He whips a cross into the box and up pops 5’6″ Phil Foden to power a header past the keeper, completing our turnaround in a bizarre but pleasing display of role reversal.
The rest of the first half is a tight affair and there’s not much quality on display from either side. We do go close early in the second half though when Foden plays a nice one-two with Joël from a free kick and then loops a cross in from the right wing. Whether it’s accidental or not only Phil knows, but the ball drops over the furiously back-pedalling goalkeeper, hits the bar and goes behind, leaving Bozic to breathe a huge sigh of relief. A minute later Ba picks up a knock, which is a shame as he’s not had much of a chance to feature since Christmas. Zoun comes on to replace him but the rest of the match is quiet. On reflection though it’s a deserved 3 points and another impressive performance by Hicham, Phil and the gang.
It’s bad news on the Ba front as he’s picked up a groin strain and will miss about 2 weeks, but it’s good news for Zoun because I’ll sort of be forced to put him straight back into the team.
2 of our number do make it into the Team of the Week, which isn’t surprising in itself, but the fact that both Aidir and Foden are left out is. It’s actually Issa Samba and Mamadou Doucouré that are picked after their solid displays against GSC.
I’ve been focussing on the records that we are and soon might be breaking for so long that they’ve sort of lost all meaning, but for those keeping score: We’re now on 70 points, which is 2 behind our record, and 22 wins, which is level with our record. Hicham’s on 22 league goals, 4 behind Djibril Cissé’s Ligue 2 record of 26 and 9 Player of the Match awards, which is also equal with Auxerre’s record.
Phew. Also, Dennis Sundberg must have flashed the cash to Mr Zhou because the takeover talks are back on after that set back last week. Honestly I don’t know if this is good or bad news at this point, but hey ho.
Our next match at the Stade Abbé-Deschamps is against Stade Malherbe Caen, the side that so helpfully beat Bourg-en-Bresse to put us top of the league. They’re doing pretty well in the league and sit in 8th place, but I’m hoping for a professional job today to break our personal best points tally.
They line up with a 4-2-3-1 and so shall we. Bourg also matched their shape and came off worse, but they didn’t have our system. They didn’t have Project: Meatloaf. Issa Samba’s suspended for this one and with Adama Ba ruled out with that groin strain, Faouzi Hikem and Zoun are back in, with Aguilar starting in his favoured right back spot.
We get off to a fantastic start in under 7 minutes when Phil Foden chips a free kick in from the right wing. Lamine Fomba rises to nod the ball on and Aidir lets it drop over his shoulder before lashing it in on the volley at the far post. We’re not allowed to celebrate our lead for very long though as within 4 minutes a slick Caen move from a throw in results in an equaliser. Diego throws it to Kalmár, who nods it on for Suljic, who plays it inside for Wesley Saïd, who finishes it off with aplomb.
15 minutes later it’s us who are pushing for the lead, but Foden’s caught in possession and robbed by N’Simba, who launches the ball upfield to start a counter attack. Saïd chases it into our box and shoots low, but Lenogue does well to tip it behind for a corner. I’m a little bit worried at how we were done by the striker’s pace there, so we revert to Project: Meatloaf Mk II, with a deeper defensive line and Goujon dropping back as a holding man so that we don’t leave too much of a gap between defence and midfield.
The change does the job to some extent as the game quietens right down. After the hour mark though it’s becoming clear that we need another change of tact to get the winning goal. Zoun’s getting no joy cutting in from the left but the right wing back Diego is pushing up and leaving lots of space, so Tirard comes on as a winger to try and make the most of the gap on the left side. With 10 minutes to go though Caen are in the ascendency and a patient move ends with Diego playing a ball through our defence and into the box for Saïd. Captiste gets across to make a good tackle and sends the ball rolling, but only as far as Suljic, who hits it goalwards. Lenogue can only bat the ball into his own net. Shit.
We’re now in serious danger of losing Bourg once again in the title race. I throw Sissako on for Goujon as a ball winner with the license to get forward and do some damage and we’ll go attacking and just take the risk that they won’t take advantage with Saïd’s pace. We’ll try to play the offside trap just to be safe but to be honest losing 1-2 or 1-3 makes no difference at this point. I also want the wingbacks getting forward as much as possible. It’s all hands on deck time.
With 6 minutes to play the ball comes to Joël in the middle and he volleys it onto the left wing for Tirard. The often underwhelming winger takes a fantastic touch, allowing him to speed away from Fortes and into the box. He shoots – And balloons his shot way over the bar.
I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly curse and condemn Stade Malherbe Caen for royally fucking our season. Bourg-en-Bresse, having won their match, have climbed to 73 points and cut us adrift once again. They’ve now guaranteed at least a play-off spot and even though we’re only 4 points away from mathematically securing promotion ourselves, I’ve got that sinking feeling of failure again.