“I’m over the bloody moon that he’s here.” That’s what I said after arriving in Auxerre and watching Ruben Aguilar train for the first time. Those were my words. I came in and saw a rounded full back, a solid defender, a good attacker, a hard working, determined team player that was absolutely beloved by the fans. It’s a shame really, what’s happened since then. Ruben lost his place to Issa Samba, a player who at the same time as I was lauding Aguilar was considering his future at the club due to a lack of playing time at the arse end of Ligue 2. Samba rose to my challenge to impress me and the rest is history. He’s now starting every match for Auxerre in Ligue 1. Ruben’s unlucky in that sense. He’s mainly impressed me when he’s played, especially at left back in the latter stages of last season. At the end of the day though he’s been fed up with playing second fiddle for a long time and I’ve been left with no choice but to cash in on a player for whom I once had extremely high hopes. Ruben’s shuffled out of the back door under something of a cloud as he completes his move to Serbian Superleague side FK Vojvodina. Good luck, mate.
In other news, Spalletti’s not taking the hint over Brahim Ferhat. He’s back from Roma with a £1M bid, rising to £2.6M. I negotiate as high as a deal that rises to £3.6M and I’m tempted to shake on it, but that’d still mean only getting £1M straight away, which would mean not replacing Ferhat until probably the Summer. We’re currently without Zoun too and if we end up getting relegated as a result, it’s not a very good deal at all, so I turn Roma’s improved offer down. I decide to offer Ferhat a new deal to end the speculation and he immediately signs. Good lad, Brahim.
Phil Foden makes the Ligue 1 Team of the Week after securing the 3 points over Ajaccio with his postage stamp free kick, which is a nice surprise. I think I got so used to our players dominating Ligue 2’s Team of the Week last season that I stopped appreciating it, but that’s definitely not been the case since the Summer.
It’s Coupe de la Ligue Semi Final time and I’ve got mixed feelings about it to be honest. On one hand, I’m delighted with getting this far in the tournament, but on the other Toulouse away will be an incredibly tough game and if we do manage to get the win, an even tougher one awaits against either PSG or Monaco.
Still, we’ve never shirked a challenge before and we won’t start now. Faouzi Hikem’s back in the starting line up in place of Billy, but otherwise it’s the same side that beat Ajaccio. Our recent fixture pile up is taking it’s toll fitness wise but we’ve got momentum and I don’t want to lose that. As always in this competition, in the case of a draw we’ll go straight to penalties. This time though we’ve got a confident Hicham Aidir in our side. Let’s book ourselves a place in the Final.
The first half is ridiculously tight. Neither side manages more than a handful of shots and not a single one is on target. As ever I don’t want to rock the boat, so I keep things simple at half time and just encourage the lads to keep going.
12 minutes into the 2nd half, we go agonisingly close when Aidir releases Sissako through on goal. He’s one on one with the keeper, but cracks his shot against the bar. It’s a promising sign and it makes me optimistic about our chances, but just 3 minutes later something truly sickening happens. 17 year old midfielder Paul Atangana sticks a boot in to challenge Aidir on the edge of the Toulouse box. For a second, it seems like the only sound in the stadium is the snapping of bone as our striker collapses in a heap on the floor. I watch on with a lump in my throat as the physios rush onto the pitch and lift Hicham onto a stretcher. One of them turns to me and shakes his head as they carry him towards the tunnel, but he doesn’t need to. I already know the score. Everyone in the stadium does. Newly off the mark for the season and injected with fresh confidence, Hicham Aidir’s leg is broken and his season is almost certainly over. It’s the cruelest blow we could’ve received.
There’s a strange quietness to the match for a few minutes after the injury. I think everyone’s a bit shellshocked after that. What’s done is done though and as much as I just want to go home and climb into bed, I clap my hands together and shout some encouragement for the lads to pick the pace up.
With 20 minutes of the 90 to play, substitute Nathan Andre moves the ball to Foden on the right. Foden cuts in and passes to Raf on the edge of the area. I start to scream for him to shoot, but he lays the ball straight off for Sissako, who does try a shot but it’s blocked by Ferhat’s legs as our players start to get in each others’ way. Raf really should’ve pulled the trigger.
10 minutes later Andre’s still making things happen, this time springing Ferhat in behind the defence. The in-demand inside forward fizzes a shot towards the far bottom corner but Letellier gets across to palm the ball behind. Ferhat’s sacrificed not long after as I bring on Florian Ayé. He’s a decent penalty taker and as we enter the final minutes of the game it looks like we’re going to need him.
Andre pulls a shot just wide a couple of minutes from the end but it’s Toulouse who should get the winner. In the 91st minute a Bittante cross is cushioned down by Morales and Rotiball has acres of space in which to shoot from 8 yards out. He skies it and lets us off the hook. Penalties it is. Come on Xavier, work your magic.
Ramírez takes and converts the first, placing the ball firmly out of Lenogue’s reach. Vidal responds in kind and then Morales makes it 1-2.
Florian Ayé steps up…
And shoots weakly down the centre, straight into Letellier’s arms. Excellent.
Saved by Lenogue! He flies to his left and punches the ball clear.
Scores! An absolute rocket into the top corner, good lad! We’re all square again at 2-2.
SAVED BY LENOGUE! He blasts it straight down the centre and Xavier might just have bloody dragged us through once again by parrying it away.
Sissako steps up to win it. To put Auxerre into the final…
Saved. It’s a decent effort but the keeper flies to his right to keep it out.
Scores. The pressure’s back on us.
SCORES! You beautiful jedi dickhead. 4-4.
Scores, right into the top left. Here we go again.
Saved. The penalty’s not the best: Mid height and slightly off centre. The ball’s caught by Letellier and our cup run’s over.
I walk out onto the pitch, forcing a smile as I clap Hikem on the back. He looks devastated. They all do. I’m proud of them though. Knocked out of the semi final on penalties is still a tremendous achievement for a team like us. “Unlucky lads”, I say, sounding as upbeat as I can as I make my way around the centre circle offering condolences. I don’t stick about for long though. After shaking the hands of Manager Jean-Marie Stéphanopoli, the Toulouse players and some of the staff, I make a beeline for the tunnel to find Aidir. He’s in absolute pieces, the poor lad. Sometimes in football it’s just not your year. I meant what I said last week though, I won’t lose faith. We’ll get his leg fixed up and if I’m still here in the summer we’ll try and get him back for a full pre-season and go again next year. Chin up, Hicham.
I feel a bit winded by the whole thing. I’ve always felt like we could stay up this season but a lot of that faith has been down to my belief that sooner or later Hicham would find his shooting boots and go on a run, dramatically firing in a late flurry of goals to keep us afloat, but that’s not happening anymore. He’ll be lucky to even set foot on a pitch again this season. What makes things even worse is that French International Nathan Andre’s now suffering a goal drought of his own. He’s gone 8 hours without scoring, so I have no idea where our next goal’s going to come from.
It certainly won’t be from Fabien McCarthy as he’s had the audacity to become twice as unavailable to us as he already was, twisting his ankle at the AFCON and ruling himself out for 3-5 weeks.
We’re back to league football and hosting Guingamp today, so we’d better figure it out quickly. They’re safe in mid-table 10 points above us but are the kind of team we need to be beating if we’re going to climb out of the relegation zone.
After much deliberation, I’m keeping Nathan Andre on the bench. He doesn’t need the added pressure of becoming our only hope for goals. Bassani comes into the team replacing Aidir and will go onto the right wing, while Phil Foden “leads the line” as a false 9. Phil’s been inconsistent this season but he certainly knows where the net is and he knows how to bring others into play. We’ll tweak Projecy: Burnie Mk V slightly to suit our new striker by passing the ball shorter and working it into the box with more patience. If Foden can drop deep to offer an option and then find a pass to either the onrushing centre mids or inside forwards to keep the ball moving, I reckon that’ll be our best chance.
Phil has other ideas. Just over 25 minutes into the match, he drops away from Guingamp’s defensive line to receive the ball from Sissako. He’s got options for the pass, but he ignores them, spins on the edge of the box and places the ball right into the top corner. You selfish, cocky, brilliant little bastard.
That’s really about it in a quiet first half. Ferhat goes close to a second just after the break though, cutting in from the left and blasting a shot at goal that’s denied by a good save from Benítez.
With half an hour to play I rest Raf and Sissako, who’ve run themselves into the ground for the last couple of weeks and are showing it. Goujon and Fomba come on in their places. A few minutes later a great bit of Auxerre possession ends with another shot from Ferhat, but again the keeper’s equal to it and we remain only narrowly ahead.
For the last 15 minutes I bring Serge Bamba on for a rare cameo in place of Brahim Ferhat, who’s also flagging a bit. In the final minutes of the match, Lamine Fomba links brilliantly with Goujon on the edge of the box, playing a give and go before Goujon dinks the ball back into his path. Fomba unleashes a sizzling volley but hits it straight at the keeper, who parries it away as far as Bamba, but his follow up shot’s saved too.
In the end we really should’ve won by more than 1 goal, but considering the fixture congestion, goal droughts and injuries we’re dealing with, I’ll take those 3 points with open arms. Once again, big Phil Foden’s defied expectations and dug us out of the shit in an unfamiliar position. And do you know what else? He’s taken us out of the relegation zone.