A great big bloody weight was lifted from Auxerre when the final whistle went against Stade Rennais. What’s pleased me probably just as much as our mathematical safety though is just how good our football’s been since our switch to Project: Meatloaf and in particular how it’s brought out the best in Brahim Ferhat, who scored a brace last game. He’s joined in the Ligue 1 Team of the Week by fellow goalscorers Billy and Phil Foden and deservedly so. Heroes.
In the days before our final league game of the season, Dennis Sundberg offers me the opportunity to discuss a contract extension with l’AJA. It does bother me slightly that he’s waited until we’re safe in Ligue 1 before offering me a new deal as I feel that I’ve done enough during my time here to have earned contract talks regardless of whether we survived, but that’s not why I turn him down. As was the case after my 2nd season with Santos, I’m genuinely not sure whether I want a 3rd. I’d have kicked myself back then if I’d signed on and then seen the Auxerre job become available and the same thing could happen again. I’m going to wait until the Summer, then I’ll decide either way.
Let’s bring things to a close then the same way we started our Ligue 1 battle: By taking on FC Lorient, this time in front of our own fans.
I’m making just 2 changes from the side that beat Rennais. There’s nothing I’d love more than a win to put the cherry on top of a successful season, but there’s 2 players in particular I want on that pitch. I really feel for Joël, who it seems may have finally hit his ceiling, but I’m bringing him in for McCarthy in the hopes that he’ll finally score a Ligue 1 goal. The other man to come in is Arturo Vidal, who’ll finish his remarkable career at the Stade l’Abbé-Deschamps today at the expense of Raf. Another nice touch I’m able to make is the reintroduction of Nathan Andre, who’s just back in full training following recovery from his broken ankle. Nathan makes the bench while Bingourou Kamara makes a farewell appearance in net. Maybe this is my farewell too.
I mentioned Neal Maupay when I took him for his France debut against Bosnia. He’s the striker that Lorient managed to sign just after the first game of the season and I’m ever so thankful for it. After 20 minutes he nods in from a João Pedro cross to show us what we missed that day. What a signing he’s been.
15 minutes later Phil Foden nearly gets us back on level terms, cutting in and smashing a shot towards the top corner, but Lindau makes the save and manages to hold on. An Alioski 35 yard pot shot is also held comfortably by Kamara just before the break.
For the last half hour I bring on Bassani and McCarthy for Foden and Sissako in the hopes that they’ll make an impact, but 8 minutes later we’re 0-2 down, with Maupay turning provider for a Vesovic header into the bottom corner.
As we enter the last 10 minutes we look disappointingly like we’re already on the beach and Lorient are still putting us under some serious pressure. Celsiney’s rushed clearance cannons straight back off Captiste and bounces through to Vesovic, who tries to double his tally but can only hit the ball against the post.
A few minutes from the end, I give Vidal a send off. He applauds the fans as he ambles off the pitch and receives a hearty round of applause back from both sets of supporters. Somewhat understandably though, the far louder cheer is reserved for Nathan Andre, who replaces him in a 4-2-4.
In the last knockings of the game Andre looks bright too, dribbling deep into Lorient’s half with the ball and eventually getting dispossessed by a brilliant Jean Paulo slide tackle. The ball rolls as far as Brahim Ferhat, who blasts in his 4th goal in 5 games.
We go surprisingly close to levelling the scores when Bassani heads just wide deep into injury time, but that turns out to be the last kick… Or last header of the 2022/23 season. All things considered, it’s probably a good job we wrapped up safety when we did.
We make our way around the pitch after the final whistle, applauding the fans. Me, Bechkoura, the staff and the players. Hicham Aidir hobbles along near the back of the line on his crutches, looking like a big Moroccan Tiny Tim. We didn’t get a goal from Joël or a win to put the cherry on top of our season, but Auxerre, if this is adieu, it’s been a hell of a ride.