The Monday after the Toulouse defeat is… Well, it’s bad. Have you ever seen Shaun of the Dead? The bit where they’re in the pub and somebody goes to turn the power on at the fuse box and when the lights come on they see the massive amount of undead clawing at the window? Yeah, that’s my Monday. I’m looking out through the window in my office door and all I can see is a queue, seemingly a mile long, of people clamouring to chew my ear off. Figuratively. Hopefully.
Fabian McCarthy, who has not had the impact that I hoped he would when I brought him in, is the first of the undead to wander over, moaning brainlessly as he writes “Give me more first team football” on the window with his blood-soaked hand. If he’d shown a bit more patience he’d see that he’s starting the next game because suspensions to both Sissako and Goujon have given me no bloody choice. And if he plays well he’ll keep his place because that is what I’ve done throughout my entire time in Auxerre, so his current lack of football is his own fault.
As I continue to watch through the door my eyes wander across to the clumsy, snarling figure of Ruben Aguilar, who’s stumbling through the zombie horde in search of a “new challenge”. He very graphically and unconvincingly rips out Dylan Moran’s insides and arranges them into the words “I want to leave Auxerre” on the floor, to which I tell him to fuck off to the reserves to share in all the fun that Adama Ba’s currently having on that particular adventure. I was going to play him in the next match too after Issa Samba’s recent poor form, but a want-away player has no place in my team. And I like Dylan Moran.
Imagine my surprise though when the next set of hands to smudge viscera all over the glass belong to the ÖFB, also known as the Austrian Football Association. It’s a bold move trying to pinch me from World Champions France and I’m just a little bit insulted that they’d try, as if to say “Come on, you’re out of your depth there. Join us instead.”
Hicham Aidir trudges in, hungry for brains like the rest. He could do with the brain of somebody who knows where the back of the net is though as he’s on a 14 match goalless streak. He’s still optimistic though to be fair and it’s good to see he still hasn’t crumbled. I certainly bloody would have by now if I was in his shoes.
Crouchie shuffles in afterwards, but he’s just here to let me know that we’ve drawn Ligue 2 side US Créteil-Lusitanos at home in the French Cup, which is very good news as we might actually pick up a win against them, something we’ve not achieved in 7 games at this point.
Surely though. Surely our next match is the one. We’re off to play Dijon at theirs in the Bourguignon derby. We beat them in the CDLL 6 weeks ago, admittedly after Xavier Lenogue’s penalty heroics and if we can’t beat the side that are 20th in the league, then we deserve to go back down. If we can’t beat the only side that are actually below us in the table, then I’m off to find Auxerre’s answer to the Winchester, having a pint and waiting for this whole thing to blow over.
For this Burgundy derby 6 pointer, we’ll be heading back to Project: Burnie Mk IV as Project: Meatloaf didn’t fare very well against Toulouse. I’m wary of Dijon’s narrow 4-3-3 so we’re playing on the counter attack and in terms of personnel, Kakuba, Ferhat and Fabien McMoany are coming in for Goujon, Sissako and Bassani. Vidal’s got a bit of a cold but he plays through it like the absolute pro that he is. Come on lads. Please. Please.
We start well and don’t actually allow our rivals any chances of note in the first half, while we have a couple. The first, after 15 minutes, stems from Brahim Ferhat’s great little pass into the channel for Nathan Andre, who spins away from a defender and fires at goal, only for Néstor to swat the ball away at full stretch. The second comes 7 minutes later when Andre tries to repay the favour, again turning beautifully to receive a pass from Lamine Fomba and then stroking the ball around the corner for Ferhat to run onto, but he blazes his shot over the bar.
At half time I’m optimistic. We’ve been by far the better team and in something of a novelty for this season, every single player in our team looks solid and is playing well. Vidal and Ferhat especially have been absolute fantastic, with the former completely dictating the game from his deep position while the latter charges around the front like a bull in a china shop, desperate to make things happen.
The second half starts slowly but again we’re in control. Andre’s gone a bit quiet since his earlier promising spell and I bring on Hicham Aidir for the last half hour. It takes until the 69th minute for our next chance though and again it starts with Vidal, who spots the overlapping run of Issa Samba and picks him out. Samba plays it inside for Ferhat, who does his very best Nathan Andre impersonation and spins delightfully to receive the ball before releasing Lamine Fomba, who’s rampaging straight through the middle of the Dijon defence. The pass is perfect. Fomba’s one on one with the keeper 12 yards out and as the stadium falls silent in one of those glorious moments of collective anticipation, he draws back his boot… And toe pokes the ball past the keeper and into the net.
“Get the fuck in!” I feel like I leap my own height when the ball hits the back of the net, punching the air like I’d leant it my Mike Bassett DVD and it’d come back all scratched up. We’re ahead. We’re fucking ahead. All we need to do is not mess this up and we’ll secure our first win in 6 weeks.
10 minutes later, I’m punished for failing to spot the warning signs. Vidal’s been chucked into this team off the back of about 5 months as a free agent and then 1 friendly for the reserves. I’ve also played him with a cold today and 78 minutes in he is absolutely dead on his feet, not unlike one of the zombies we spoke about earlier. With 3 precious points in sight he’s caught in possession 30 yards from our goal and robbed of the ball by Yusein. My heart stops. There’s a massive gap right behind the Chilean and Yusein plays the ball straight into it for Diony to chase. The striker gets to the ball on the edge of the box and has a free shot at goal… And puts it well wide. Before I even breathe my sigh of relief I signal to the 4th official. This lad needs a rest. Raf comes on.
With less than 2 minutes of normal time to play Dijon are pushing for the equaliser, but Captiste intercepts a pass and hoofs the ball away down the centre of the pitch, no-nonsense-style. Ferhat judges the flight of the ball better than his marker, who leaps for a header and misses. The Algerian born striker drops the shoulder, takes the ball and sprints as fast as his legs can carry him towards the right byline. He could keep it in the corner and give us a rest, but somehow I already know he’s not going to do that. He’s looked so positive all game and he still wants to make things happen. As he reaches the edge of the pitch he looks up and sees Hicham “Please God, score” Aidir sprinting into the middle. Ferhat sends a low cross into the 6 yard box towards him… All he needs to do is tap it into the net… But Dijon centre back Thomas Fontaine dives in and does it for him. 2-0.
I head straight over to Hicham as the final whistle blows and put an arm around his shoulder. “Unlucky, mate. It just wasn’t your day.” I say. He forces a smile. I’m so conflicted. We’ve got a win. An actual win. 3 whole points. But there’s a special place in hell for people like you, Fontaine.
We don’t have much time until the next match; A Wednesday night Coupe de la Ligue 4th Round tie against Nancy Lorraine. With that win we’re still in touch with life outside the relegation zone and are behind Lille only on goal difference. Nancy are 15th, 4 points and a fair few goals higher up than us, but they’re not exactly doing well either.
I consider making changes, but I’m not a big fan of changing a winning side. Vidal gets the nod as he looks fit enough to start, but I’ll be keeping a closer eye on him as the match progresses, looking out for any signs of needing another break. The 2 lads that missed the last game through suspension are back on the bench, but that’s about the extent of our changes. Incidentally, if you’d told me in the Summer that my “First team” at any point this season would have Goujon, Joël, Zoun, Sissako, Aidir and Foden all on the bench, I’d have smacked you rhythmically with a pool cue to the beat of “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. I’m also quite sure that that’s the last reference I want to make to Shaun of the fucking Dead.
We start brightly once again and within 2 minutes we’ve got most of the Nancy team backed into their own box. Vidal receives the ball on the edge of the area, skips around a challenge and tries to find a pass, but the chance doesn’t arrive. He’s tackled and the ball’s hoofed upfield on the counter attack and picked up by Koura. The striker draws the attention of both of our centre backs and then slips through his parter Collignon, who smashes the ball past Lenogue. That isn’t how I thought that move was going to go.
Half an hour later though we’re back on level terms and this time I don’t care that Samba’s drilled cross deflects in off Ngulamba’s foot. I’m glad of the goal whoever scores it. The rest of the match is tight and cagey and I bring on Hicham Aidir towards the end with another penalty shootout looming.
Arturo Vidal, surprisingly not looking too worse for wear, steps up to take the first one… And makes no mistake, fizzing the ball right into the bottom corner. Good lad.
Gedion Zelalem steps up for Nancy, shoots to Lenogue’s right… SAVED! Terrific start. Lenogue claps his hands together with a mixture of fury and relief as he steps aside for our next kick taker, Mamadou Doucouré.
Mamadou hits it… Saved. Ah, memories of his debut come flooding right back to kick me square in the bollocks.
Lenogue could keep us ahead though. Petre steps up, goes the same way as Zelalem did… SAVED AGAIN! Unbelievable stuff from Xavier. He played a huge part in getting us through the 3rd round and now it looks like he might be dragging us through all over again.
Fabien McCarthy steps up, eager to impress in the first team since his reintroduction. He’s been solid in these matches too, so good on him. Go on Fabien. Go on, mate. He steps up… AND SCORES!! Blasted straight down the middle. That’s how you do it. It’s 2-0.
If Gojkov can’t find a way past Lenogue his team are going to be under some serious pressure. He runs up to hit Nancy’s 3rd penalty… And scores. He cheekily chooses the same corner that his team mates went for, only this time Lenogue goes the other way.
Captiste steps up. Faithful Captiste. Loyal, brave Captiste. If he scores there’ll be no room for error for the remaining Nancy penalty takers. Go on, skipper. Captiste runs up… And hits the foot of the post. His head goes straight into his hands, but I stay dead still. We’re still winning. We can still hold onto our lead if Lenogue can do us another favour.
And then up steps Ngulamba, scorer of Auxerre’s equalising goal and largely the reason we’re still in this competition. This is his chance for redemption. Ngulamba shoots… FUCKING SAVED! UNBELIEVABLE! It’s a poor penalty to be fair, far too central, but that’s 3 out of 4 for Lenogue.
It all comes down to this. The 5th penalty. If we score, we win. If we score, we’re through to the next round. Come on, Hicham, mate. You can bloody do it. Hicham Aidir, without a goal in 15 matches, steps up, places the ball on the penalty spot and counts his steps backwards. He takes a breath, runs up, shoots to the keeper’s left… Saved. I sink to my knees. That’s the 2nd penalty shootout this season in which he’s failed to find the net. I honestly don’t know what more I can do. I don’t know what more he can do. I’ve not wanted it to be true, but maybe he’s just out of his depth.
Nevertheless, Nancy need to score to stay in it. Pokorny steps up across from Xavier Lenogue, who somehow seems to take up the entire goal. He’s like a fully grown man standing in front of those miniature nets that kids get for their back gardens. There’s no way past him. Surely there’s no way past him. Pokorny shoots with utmost precision towards the bottom left corner… BUT LENOGUE FLIES ACROSS HIS GOAL TO KEEP IT OUT!
Xavier’s immediately mobbed by team mates from on and off the pitch. They all run over and lift him up onto their shoulders. He’s certainly the man of the hour, single handedly pulling us through at Nancy’s expense. So why does this victory feel so hollow? I stand watching my jubilant team all celebrating together near the penalty area. All but one. What are we going to do with you, Hicham?