It’s been a difficult couple of weeks, I think that much has been clear. The atmosphere in the changing room and training sessions isn’t exactly somber but it’s noticeably quieter than after our opening day win over Lorient. That already seems like quite a long time ago. There are a few silver linings though: First of all Crouchie’s earned his Continental Pro License, meaning that he’s actually more qualified for my job than I am. Good job, Crouchie. I’ll get there at some point, maybe starting next Summer when the Ligue 1 revenue kicks in and the club can afford my course.
And secondly, the club’s training facilities have been improved to excellent Ligue 1 standard, which seems pretty minor but could actually be a huge moment in our season. The better our facilities are, the more our players can improve and the better chance we have of staying up.
We get the opportunity to bounce straight back from our loss at Guingamp with a Wednesday night home match against Nantes. This is a must-win. After 4 straight defeats we’re 19th in the league with only Nantes themselves below us. This might be the best chance we have for a while to turn our form around.
So with that being the case I’m not messing around today. We’re serving a huge helping of Meatloaf for our guests, with Mike Kakuba making way for Zoun and Joël coming in for McCarthy. Both lads have had disappointing starts to the season and I’m hoping that this will be the day that they get going and recreate their form from last season.
We should go ahead when Hikem’s corner is turned towards goal by Sissako after half an hour, but the keeper does well to keep the ball out. Just before half time we do manage to take the lead though when Nathan Andre skips away from his flat footed marker, picks his spot and fires the ball in from the edge of the box.
We go to a more standard mentality at half time and with 25 minutes to play, Raf comes on replacing the knackered Loïc Goujon. With 20 minutes to go though, disaster strikes: A Harit free kick is swung into the box, Ardaiz goes for the ball and Issa Samba very unsubtly shoves him to the floor, conceding a penalty that Harit puts firmly to Lenogue’s left to equalise. Aguilar replaces Samba late on as it seems like our usually reliable right back is falling apart to some extent and McCarthy comes on too, but we can’t find our way back into the lead. 1-1 it ends.
Don’t get me wrong, considering this is our first point in 5 matches it’s not the end of the World that we didn’t get all 3. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that. We once again have an instant opportunity to dispel any lingering feelings of disappointment though with a trip to Saint-Étienne just 3 days later. Although we’re 18th at the minute, the league’s so tight that a win here could take us as high as 11th, so let’s make it happen. Please let’s make it happen.
We’re swapping to Project: Meatloaf Mk II for this one, with McCarthy coming in for Joël and Bassani replacing Brahim Ferhat, who’s been struggling of late, like 17 year olds will. With Zoun over on the left and Bassani on the right, I want our 2 wide players to swap sides every now and then and play as out and out wingers to keep Saint-Étienne on their toes.
We’re behind after just a quarter of an hour. Captiste originally heads the hosts’ corner clear, but when Iturbe brings the ball down on the edge of the box and chips it invitingly into the mixer, Barba can’t resist smashing it into the net. 5 minutes later our day goes from bad to worse when Iturbe cuts in from the right and has a pop from 20 yards, smacking the ball against the bar and setting up an easy rebound for Alexandre to tuck away. With nothing to lose, we go Meatloaf after 20 minutes.
The next 10 minutes are ridiculous. I’m not joking or being hyperbolic, the next 10 minutes are actually batshit insane. It starts when Bassani gets away down the right wing and whips a cross in, only to see the ball cannon back off the post. Not that “mental” in isolation I realise, but stick with me. Less than a minute later McCarthy curls a corner in and Sissako rises to head the ball against the very same post. 5 minutes after that Bassani has a potshot saved and then with 10 minutes to go before the break, the young winger once again gets away down the right, once again whips a cross in and once again watches it come back off the post. That’s 3 times in 10 minutes we’ve hit the sodding woodwork. Luckily this time Toult springs into action and attempts to clear the ball but only succeeds in smashing it against Andre’s face, after which it bounces over the line and in. Ridiculous.
A minute after our goal, En Nesyri gets the wrong side of Captiste and hits the post himself, before we go up the other end, Samba plays the ball through for Bassani and his effort’s tipped over the bar by a superb reflex save. Andre and Zoun both go close before the break with shots from just outside the box but in what’s becoming something of a pattern this season, we’ve got nothing to show for our dominance.
We go 4-2-4 at the break with Aidir replacing McCarthy and joining Andre up front and it very nearly pays off within seconds of the restart, when Andre feeds Aidir and the Saint-Étienne keeper is forced to tip our Moroccan’s shot over the bar with another fantastic save. The second half’s quiet though. Fomba and Ferhat both make cameos but it’s another bloody loss.
Taking a very welcome break from thinking about yet another loss though, Auxerre as we know are a great producer of footballers, as is proven by the fact that we’ve produced the 6th most French National team players after Lyon, PSG, Stade Malherbe Caen, Lens and Metz. It does make me think though… I mean, I’m about to announce my France squad for the matches against Ireland and the Netherlands so this list of teams that produce National team players is completely in my hands. I could seriously skew those numbers, although I don’t think such a move would do wonders for my reputation.
We’ll get to the France squad though. For now Auxerre have still got a match to play before the international break. Bordeaux are coming to town and I’m actually going to take a bit of inspiration from Project: Renaissance. We’ll be without Raf, who’s gone and given himself food poisoning, Captiste, who’s strained his neck, McCarthy, who’s twisted his ankle and Samba, who’s suspended. But this is where our Project: Renaissance inspiration comes in: As well as Aguilar, Ferhat and Kakuba, Lamine Fomba’s going to come in and start at number 10 as a destroyer/second striker, similar to Paul Pogba’s role for the national side. He’ll play behind our young striker Nathan Andre, who’s given more of a facilitator role like his International counterpart Antoine Griezmann. We’ve got just 6 on the substitutes’ bench as another clerical error means that a lot of the lads line up for the reserves a few hours before the first team match. In the absence of Captiste, Aidir and Samba, Mamadou Doucouré takes the armband as we try to end this horrible slump.
Oh and one more thing… After Nathan Andre’s excellent start to life in Ligue 1, I’ve put him in my latest France squad. In my defence, I want to pick my French side on form and Nathan’s scored 5 in 5 this season. To me that justifies his inclusion, but I can’t wait to hear the opinions of the tabloids…
The first half is every bit as action packed as it was against Saint-Étienne last week. Bassani goes close first after 10 minutes, trying his luck but just putting a shot wide from 25 yards. We start trying to work the ball into the box not long after. Half an hour in, Ferhat lashes a shot at goal but is denied by the flappy hands of Dimitrievski and from the resulting corner Ferhat’s cross is met and headed against the post by Sissako. Ferhat promptly gets the ball back and tees up Nathan Andre, who also hits the post, presumably because I murdered somebody in a past life.
To make matters worse just a few minutes after our double post-rattling, Pinho slips the ball past Kakuba, Schick sprints away from Aguilar and puts Bordeaux 0-1 up. 5 minutes and a pulled hamstring for Ferhat later, Pinho slips the ball in for Schick again, who makes it 0-2 for his side. I’m beginning to lose hope as the clock ticks towards 45 minutes, but then miraculously Fomba releases Andre down the left wing, he crosses to the far post and Bassani arrives to avoid the post entirely if you can imagine such a thing and tap in his first Auxerre goal.
Ferhat makes it until the hour mark but his hamstring’s giving him too much trouble and Zoun replaces him. A couple of minutes later, Bassani spots Fomba in space on the edge of Bordeaux’s area and picks him out. Fomba slams the ball into the top corner, remarkably pulling us level. With 22 minutes to go, Andre receives the ball from Sissako with his back to goal. As he turns, time seems to slow down almost to a stop. He fires the ball low and true from the edge of the box and as the ball ripples the back of the net, the most surprising and welcome of comebacks is complete.
Now it’s Bordeaux’s turn. It’s their turn to slump helplessly to defeat and it’s our turn to watch and laugh as they scramble to salvage something from the game. I can’t bloody believe it. I was starting to lose hope. Amath hits the post a few minutes after we take the lead but not long after I bring on Raf and we shut up shop. I breathe a huge sigh of relief as the final whistle blows. It’s another extremely dominant performance and for once, at last, we’ve actually got the win to go with it.