“You’ll be alright, mate. You were alright last time and you’ll be alright this time. The mentality your teams have is your best weapon, they never stop fighting. Also fouling. They foul a lot. Too much really. But mainly they fight.”
“How’ve you done it?” I ask. I’d be a bit of a curious sight at the minute if anybody could see me, laid across an armchair in my flat with a flannel across my face, having a phone conversation that strongly resembles actual therapy. “I mean, I couldn’t have done more than a year in Poland, how’ve you lasted all this time?”
My former assistant Dennis Lawrence sighs. “I moved to the 2nd tier, got a team promoted and moved to a better side.” He says. “The Ekstraklasa’s like any other league when you’re not managing the whipping boys. It’s not as bad here as you think.”
“But I don’t want to move to a better side. That’d be like giving up on Auxerre.”
“I’m not saying it’s the only way, it’s just the way I’ve lasted.”
Dennis is no help. It’s alright for him and Jagiellonia, they’re well established in that horror show of a league, which itself is well established in the part of my brain that processes fear, pain, anger, frustration… Anyway, I’m not jumping ship. If I’m sacked, I’m sacked. I’ve surely built up enough goodwill here to prevent that though. If we get to the end of the season and get relegated I’ll let my contract run down and wish the club well and if we stay up… Well, who knows. For now though we’re in bad shape, having lost 5 straight matches. Nothing short of a 5-0 win in our next match will lift us out of the relegation places.
There is a strange silver lining though. Both Phil Foden and Hicham Aidir are in contention for the Ligue 2 Player of the Year award. What a weird time to do this.
Of course all that does is shine a light on how things have gone since our promotion from Ligue 2 for Hicham. He’s staying positive though.
I know that I’ve not exactly gotten fully into the spirit of managing the French National team yet with the whole “Team in danger of relegation” thing being my primary focus, but it’s difficult not to get excited when the European International League semi-finals are announced and we draw Italy. Now that’s a classic International match-up in all it’s head-butting glory. We’ll be playing the Italians after the domestic season finishes too so hopefully I’ll be in a much better mood by then. The final will take place a few days after where the winner of our tie will face either Spain or Portugal. Mouth watering stuff.
With that to look forward to though, it’s time to get back to what is probably going to be an awfully long slog. This next match is crucial too. You know I said we’d need a 5-0 win to climb out of the relegation places? That’s because our opponents are 17th placed AS Nancy Lorraine, who are 3 points and 9 goals better off than us. I don’t actually expect that sort of scoreline but the 3 points would be awfully helpful.
I’m opting for an unchanged Project: Burnie Mk IV and we’ll play on the counter as we’re the away side. I still have faith that this system can work once Vidal gets settled.
Just after the half hour we take the lead! Sissako slips a pass through for Nathan Andre, who blasts the ball beyond Hortalin’s reach to put a massive smile on my face. I really enjoy the next 3 minutes too and it’s a good job, because after we fail to properly clear a Nancy corner, Anselmo shrugs off Captiste and thumps an equaliser past Lenogue.
Aidir comes on as a target man at the break. I’m hoping that by playing him in that role he’ll contribute even if he doesn’t score. Ferhat makes way after a quiet half. Unfortunately we don’t actually create anything more at all. Petre grazes the bar with a pot shot from the right wing, Foden comes on to try and give us a boost and Meïté gets a red card for tripping Sissako, but other than that it’s all quiet. We’ve got to count this as 2 points dropped, but at least our losing streak’s over.
Moving straight on, we’ve got a midweek visit from Toulouse to prepare for. If we can avoid defeat for the second match in a row I’ll happily call that progress, but they’re flying high in 4th so it’ll be a tough ask.
I’m not going to hand them the initiative though. Toulouse play an extremely solid 4-1-4-1 with rapid wingers that can transition them to attack extremely quickly. I’m going to give a standard Project: Meatloaf a try as I fear that if I stick with Project: Burnie Mk IV our 2 strikers will be swallowed up completely by their defence and we’ll just end up under immense pressure. Kakuba, Goujon and Ferhat make way to accommodate the tactical change and are replaced by Foden, Fomba and Bassani. We’ll also be focussing our play down the left as they seem to do the same, so Samba will stay back and defend while Hikem has license to get forward.
We start this one really strongly. Within the first 20 minutes, Fomba’s 25 yard drive’s parried by Gomis and then Bassani’s follow up’s also tipped round the post by the Toulouse keeper. The resulting corner’s cleared but we work it to Doucouré 25 yards out and he turns before unleashing an absolute thunderbolt of a shot against the bar.
We should’ve taken the lead and we’re counting the cost of not doing so 10 minutes later when a Bittante cross is glanced in at the near post by Ivanovic. He nearly makes it 2 before half time as well as our confidence starts to crumble all over again. Chang crosses low from the left and Ivanovic smacks the ball against the foot of the post.
We set out after half time with our heads held high and the hopes of pulling the scores level, but within 5 minutes, Candreva’s drilled corner meets Blin, who turns it through the crowd and under Lenogue for 0-2. Bloody hell.
With nothing left to lose, Goujon and Ferhat come on as we rearrange, with Foden moving back into his familiar right wing role and Vidal having a go as an enganche behind Andre. We’re going all out attack.
It’s no use though. I throw Aidir on too eventually but Toulouse pot shots are all that make up the rest of the match, with none of them even going close to adding to the scoreline. Oh and Abdoulaye Sissako really makes my day a lot better with 10 minutes to go by earning a 2nd yellow card for a trip. We’ve been much better than this in other games this season and been beaten by more goals, so I suppose we’ll just have to grin and bear this one. The phrase “One step forwards, two steps back” springs to mind though.