Side Note: If you’re checking back for ep166 I’m putting it back a week. Turns out the World Cup really eats away at your time and fitting the story in between watching games last week was a challenge! I’ll be back next week when there’s fewer games on.
Sidenote to the sidenote: I’m writing this a few hours after the Panama win so I’m obviously convinced at this point that football is in fact coming home. Come on England 🏴
“Well, what did you tell them?”
“I told them ‘No’,” I laugh. “What do you think I told them?” Crouch looks disappointed.
“Hull City though, boss. They’re a big club. A Premier League club.”
“Crouchie, if all I wanted was any Premier League job, I would’ve gone already wouldn’t I? I would’ve interviewed at Middlesborough in the Summer. I want to shoot a bit higher than that.” I furrow my brow in concern. “What’s the matter, are you homesick or something?”
“Not homesick, no. You know, it’d just be nice to go home and climb through the Premier League.”
“Yeah, it will be eventually. But we’ve still got work to do here, haven’t we. And besides, they’ve just sacked Bilic for leaving them in 15th! 15th! Hull! What are they expecting? For me to come in and do a Leicester? There’s ambition and then there’s common sense, they’d sack me within a year over there if they’re trigger happy enough to twist on 15.”
It’s true. Even if I was interested in moving to the Premier League right now, the fact that Hull have sacked a perfectly good manager whilst hovering fairly comfortably above the relegation zone has put a massive red warning sign over the job for me. No, I’ll stick with Auxerre thanks Mr Beard.
Our 3 successive 1-0 wins have left my squad in a pretty good mood, even if 2 of them were scraped against Ligue 2 clubs. I make good on my promise of fining Faouzi Hikem for his moronic 2 footer in the Chamois match and he accepts my decision without argument.
My hunch was correct too: Paris Saint-Germain do indeed proceed to the 11th round of the French Cup with a 3-1 win over lowly FC Sète. They’ll face us next in the Cup.
It’s a good week for Alex Makengo, who made his debut in our extra time win over Créteil and has now turned professional. It’s nice to have a promising new option on the wings.
I have to call Fethiyespor manager Mustafa Uğur though and give him in earful over the loan deal of another young Auxerre player: Despite impressing in his first season on loan with the Turkish side, Paul Lefevre has yet to feature at all in his second term. To his credit Mustafa promises to give him more football, but I’ll be keeping an eye on the situation.
Fabien McCarthy’s chosen an incredibly strange time to drop his concerns over his lack of playing time, having been off at the AFCON since the winter break. He’s still going to be out for a couple more weeks with his injury too so it remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to break back into a team who for the time being are in good form.
And speaking of AFCON, it’s finally over so we can get our players back. Nigeria were the eventual winners, with Zoun’s Burkina Faso stumbling at the group stages and McCarthy’s South Africa falling in the first knockout round to Algeria.
Thanks to our cup matches we’ve slipped back into the relegation zone. We’re 19th but we do have a game in hand over the teams around us. Actually if we win today’s home game against Saint-Étienne and their newly appointed manager Claude Makélélé, we could leapfrog 4 teams including Bourg-en-Bresse.
I’m not sure what to expect from Étienne here. Claude’s come in and drawn his first 2 matches using a 4-2-3-1 in 1 and a 1-2-2-3-2 in the other. I’m airing on the side of caution because I don’t want to risk losing our momentum. We’ll play Project: Burnie Mk V (Full Back Edition) in case they do start with attacking wingers. Hikem’s obviously suspended and will be joined in the stands by Sissako, who picked up a 3rd yellow card in 10 last match. Billy and Fomba come in as like for like replacements. With AFCON being over, Zoun makes the bench.
In the first half hour, we’re nearly undone twice in quick succession by striker Amang. First he swings in a cross from the right that glides right through and hits the far post, and then he gets on the end of a driven cross from Peybernes but can only glance a header against the near post. We’re lucky to be on level terms at half time. At the break we go on the counter and I release my full backs as we’re looking very narrow and could do with them overlapping and providing width. I also bring on Zoun for a comeback appearance. He replaces Bassani and moves to the left wing, which allows Ferhat to go up front as a deep lying forward and Foden to return to the right where he’s more comfortable.
Just after the restart however, Claude’s men finally get the rub of the green. With my Auxerre team penned back in our own penalty area, Garcia lays the ball off for Pavelka and the midfielder hits a looping shot from 30 yards straight over Lenogue and into the top corner of the net. To be fair, it’s an excellent goal.
Makélélé being Makélélé, his side immediately changes shape to that defensive 1-2-2-3-2 formation and attempts to shut up shop. Knowing that we won’t be able to break down such a structure with the shape we we’re playing, I make changes too. We go to a ridiculously open looking 2-3-1-2-2, with our defensive triangle in tact, wing backs and Lamine Fomba running the show on his own from midfield. Nathan Andre comes on replacing Raf and joins Ferhat up front, while I swap the wide players around so that they can get down the wings and avoid the centre of the park where the visitors are heavy in numbers. I give the team only 2 instructions: Attack. Quickly.
Just after the hour mark, we attack quickly. Samba bombs up the wing and receives the ball, whips a cross into the danger area between defence and goalie and Nathan bloody Andre pops up at the far post to end his goal drought by tapping the ball home. At last. His broken leg should be just around the corner knowing our luck.
With 10 minutes to play the game could still go either way. We have a heart-stopping moment where Susic breaks through and has a shot around the post and after that I bring on Makengo in place of Foden in the hopes that his fresh legs will give us an extra dimension on the left. I’m not disappointed. With just a few minutes left he wins a corner on the left and Vidal takes it, swinging the ball deep into the penalty area. Lamine Fomba goes to latch onto the cross – And is bundled over in the area by Lacroix. Arturo Vidal confidently places the ball perfectly into the bottom corner and sends the keeper the wrong way for good measure. For the last remaining minutes we waste time in a defensive 4-1-4-1 featuring Brahim Ferhat as an auxiliary ball winning midfielder. Saint-Étienne finally revert back to their 4-2-3-1 but it’s too late. We may as well carry the 3 points away in a big sack with a dollar sign on it.
That win takes us up to the dizzying heights of 16th place, above Nancy-Lorraine, Lille and Bourg-en-Bresse. The best part is that we still have a game in hand over all of them.
I’m offered another interview in the coming days: Angers SCO, 3rd place in Ligue 2, lose manager Didier Santini to Nice and give me a ring to see if I’m interested. I’m not sure why.
In the words of Luke’s Dad, now this is podracing. AJ Auxerre have won 3 matches in a row in the league and 4 in a row in all competitions! Somebody pinch me! Not you though, Girondins de Bordeaux. You can fear me.
We’ll stick with the same formation for our trip to Bordeaux, but learning my lessons from last time I’m freeing up our full backs a bit from the start as we looked awful in that first half. We’ll play on the counter attack, Sissako and Hikem are back on the bench and Bassani bows out of the squad to be replaced by Nathan Andre, the man of the moment. The man who retakes his seat at the top of our formation and who’ll take us to new heights in this bloody league now that he’s remembered where the net is. Let them have it, Nathan! Both barrels! All systems full power!!!
4 minutes into the match, Nathan Andre pulls up while dribbling and collapses on the floor in apparent agony. I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it. It is unbelievable. Even when the physios sprint onto the pitch I don’t believe it. Even when they lift the striker onto a stretcher I don’t believe it. Crouchie has to give me a nudge as they carry him down the tunnel as I’ve not prepared a substitute, due to my disbelief in it. Word soon comes back up the tunnel as I send on Zoun and put Ferhat back up front: A broken ankle. A broken ankle which will, say it with me now, most likely keep Nathan Andre out for the rest of the season. Fuck me sideways.
We soldier on for 20 minutes with no real action to speak of. A Pinha free kick and Foden shot are both easily dealt with by the respective goalkeepers but that’s about it. Just when I’m waiting for something else to go wrong though, Cervi dribbles into our box from the left and is felled by Captiste. The referee points to the spot and I consider walking down the tunnel, grabbing my trusty grey coat and flying home. But then I remember we’ve got Xavier Lenogue. Alex thumps the penalty towards the top right hand corner, but the big Martinique International dives to bat it away with a strong hand.
When Cervi crosses the ball in from the right 5 minutes later and Samba jumps unfairly and fouls Enner Valencia, conceding a second penalty, I once again consider scarpering. But bloody hell, Xavier does it again. Xavier Le God dives the same way to deny Fuch and Bordeaux. This man knows of my anguish. He knows of my pain. He knows how unfair and unreasonable this fucking season’s being and he’s not going to put up with it. I’m quite far away in the dugout as he makes the second penalty save so I can’t hear him over the noise of the crowd, but I assume he screams something like “Not on my watch!” as he palms the ball clear.
Bordeaux look rattled as we move towards half time and we so nearly sneak a goal in injury time when Zoun cuts in and fires a daisy cutter at goal, but Dimitrievski gets his body behind it and keeps the ball out. The second half is less eventful. Valencia rattles the crossbar, cementing the fact that this is just not going to be Bordeaux’s day in the minds of the players, and even when they change to a 4-4-2 we keep plodding along. Bassani, Sissako and Raf all come on in the latter stages to keep things fresh and we take a point home with us, courtesy of our man of the match shot stopper. If we took 3 points from Saint-Étienne in a sack with a dollar sign on it, we’ve escaped this one by swinging off a vine and climbing into a 2 man plane in the middle of a river while natives shoot darts at us.
Fun Fact: This is a genuine extract from the notes I made after the Saint-Etienne match. It’s not a broken leg, but still. Go fuck yourselves, football Gods.