I think that went well. Yeah, I think that was fine. I’m in a positive mood as Dyukov’s private jet takes off from Rzhevka Airport, just East of St Petersburg. I could definitely get used to this kind of luxury, by the way. It’s my first time in a private jet and Jesus it’s luxurious. They’ve got everything: Loads of alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, they’ve even got fucking Lilt. I’ve not seen that shit in years.
Anyway, yes, the interview. It basically boiled down to the fact that Zenit are looking for 2 things in a manager: They want someone who can develop youngsters from their youth academy (Check) and someone who’ll focus on making the most of set pieces (Not on your life). It was a bit of a sticking point, that last one. I’m not prepared to go to a team that are 8 points clear at the top of the league and drill them like they’re fucking FC Höllviken, setting up defensively and putting all our eggs into the set piece basket. I do like to have tall, switched on players in my teams though, so we do tend to hold our own in this regard despite the fact that I don’t make it any sort of priority. Dyukov seemed satisfied with that answer. Otherwise it was all standard stuff. Yeah, I think it went well.
I had a meeting the other day with Nathan Andre and Billy with regard to the Lyon match. Both had really poor games and I gently encouraged them both to learn from it.
And speaking of Zlatan’s teams, we also draw his former charges Valenciennes in the French Cup 9th Round. It should be a fairly winnable tie as Valenciennes are very much a mid-table Ligue 2 side, but I’m very much aware that I’ve said that before and been incredibly wrong, so I suppose we’ll see.
With 3 irons currently in the fire, I decline Bordeaux’s invitation to add a 4th by interviewing for their vacant manager’s position. I also decline Sundberg’s invitation to hold talks with Auxerre.
Mike Kakuba’s picked in the Ligue 1 Team of the Week for what I’m pretty sure is the first time, while Nathan Andre has now dropped his concern over the lack of football he was playing at the start of the season. Gaizka Basauri now wants to go on loan in search of first team football of his own, but Captiste sorts it.
But this week we don’t just have domestic admin to get out of the way, oh no, this week the World Cup 2026 Qualifying Groups are drawn, the matches for which will start after Euro 2024.
With France seeded first, the first 45 picks pass us by. To be honest I’d probably take any of these groups. I look at for example Group 1, I see Switzerland, Wales and Ireland I think “That could be a tough group”, but not for us surely. Not for France. Group 6 I really would rather avoid though – Czechia, Slovenia, Iceland and Slovakia strikes me as a group that are going to kick the shit out of each other and average 0.5 goals per game. No thank you. My heart races as our bracket of teams is whittled down: Germany, Denmark, Croatia, Belgium, England… And in Group 6… Spain. Oh Christ, they’ll get eaten alive.
The very next team out of the hat are France in Group 7, as the people of Georgia all simultaneously let out anguished screams. Hello again. It’ll be nice to exact some long overdue revenge on Montenegro for the way they thrashed Liechtenstein, while the Faroe Islands matches should be cricket scores. Turkey will probably give us a game but I’d call this another fairly easy group.
So with another winnable group to look forward to next Year, my eyes flick back over to Auxerre’s next match, at home against Stade Rennais. They’re 13th in what’s turning out to be a really tightly contested bottom half of the table and I want us to take all 3 points. Goujon and Sohna will both miss out through suspension, so Mamadou Doucouré comes back into our defence as Captiste is still lacking fitness, while Fabian McCarthy also returns to the starting lineup and will play number 10 as Fomba drops back. After Nathan Andre’s disappointing last outing, Hicham Aidir’s back in up front too.
25 minutes in we are looking good. Very good. Outstanding even. In particular, 2 Auxerrois favourites, Hicham Aidir and Phil Foden, are linking up beautifully. Celsiney originally plays a long ball up the pitch, which Aidir cushions down for Foden just inside the Rennais half. Foden dribbles past his man and lays the ball back to Aidir, who surges forward through the left channel. He looks up and spots Foden arriving at the back stick, swings in an absolute peach of a cross and the Stopfordian, who is scoring a really disproportionate amount of headers for a 5’6″ playmaker this season, nods us into the lead. Brilliant play.
Unfortunately we’re quickly undone when Foulquier’s whipped cross is half volleyed in at the near post by Cuissance after the half hour, but we keep playing our beautiful football. Just before the break we put together another great, slick move down the right wing, with Foden, Celsiney McCarthy and Sissako linking together a series of one-touch passes to get us up to the Rennais penalty area. Sissako’s the one that finds the ball at his feet on the edge of the box and shoots for the right hand side of goal, whereupon Rennais’ goalkeeper Diallo lets the ball slip through his fingers. It’s a shame in a way that such a fantastic move ends with a goalkeeping error, but the ball’s in the back of the net either way. 2-1.
As we approach the hour we narrowly miss out on a third goal when McCarthy tees up Aidir with a header and Aidir controls the ball on his knee before blasting a volley at goal. Diallo makes up for his earlier error with a great stop, but can only parry the ball into the path of Phil Foden – Who volleys wide of the near post.
A few minutes later we do manage a third though – Another fantastic move, this time down the left involving McCarthy, Billy, Ferhat and Aidir. The ball ends up with Ferhat, who drills a cross in from the byline for Aidir to poke in from close range. I celebrate our 2 goal cushion by bringing Gaizka Basauri on for Lamine Fomba and swapping us to a more cautious 4-1-2-3.
With 25 minutes to go we almost find a 4th when Ferhat finds Aidir in the box and the striker has a low shot tipped against the post by Diallo and after Roux comes on for a quick cameo, Dongou heads against the bar in the closing moments. It’s a good 3 points. 3-1.
Phil Foden and Abdoulaye Sissako are in the Ligue 1 Team of the Week after their contributions to that excellent team performance, although players like Ferhat and Aidir are unlucky to miss out. We showed glimpses of some of the best football I’ve seen from any team I’ve managed in that match.
It’s time for a break from the league though as we entertain Ligue 1’s 3rd place team FC Lorient in the 4th round of the Coupe de la Ligue. As I keep saying, another cup run is the aim and getting over this hurdle should really get us in the mood to go far.
Saying that, we’ve got some tired legs in the squad and some players that need some football, so I’m making a few changes: Celsiney, Mike Kakuba, Abi Sissako and Phil Foden drop out and are replaced by Issa Samba, Captiste, Loïc Goujon and Alessandro Bassani. Otherwise it’s the same system and the same lineup. Let’s have more of what we saw last time out please, boys.
An excellent start for Auxerre! It’s not quite the beautiful football I wanted, but in the 8th minute, Fabian McCarthy swings a dangerous looking corner into the box and Abdoulaye Doucouré shoves Fomba to the floor, giving away a spot kick. On his return to the team, of course Captiste takes responsibility. He places the ball down, counts his steps back, rolls up his socks and runs up. He blasts it towards Delestrain’s left – And the keeper pulls off a LeGod-esque save to deny him. Well never fucking mind, then.
Luckily, we do still take the lead in the 20th minute after an absolutely superb diagonal ball from Alessandro Bassani sets Aidir up in the box. The Moroccan lets the ball bounce and then drills it towards the near post, with Delestrain only able to get fingertips to the shot as it squeezes into the net.
6 minutes later Corallo breaks down the left wing and has an opportunity to shoot from a narrow angle but opts to square it across for Dominici instead. Dominici, perhaps surprised by his team mate’s decision, can only shoot straight at Lenogue, who tips it against the post to maintain our lead. A few minutes later Ferhat has a similar opportunity, bursting down the left and pulling the ball back to the edge of the 6 yard box. If anything we’re too well represented in the Lorient box though and Fomba’s shot is blocked by Aidir’s ankles when he can’t move out of the way.
We should definitely have scored that one and Lorient make us pay with 7 minutes to play of the first half, when McCarthy’s caught in possession and Neal Maupay plays a lovely dinked pass with the outside of his foot, straight into the path of team mate Khidrian, who controls it well and simply tucks the ball past Lenogue. Just in case we didn’t catch that message, Guendouzi’s long ball is flicked on first by Corallo, then by Abdoulaye Doucouré, leaving Neal Maupay to slide in a goal of his own. What on Earth’s just happened? Suddenly we’re 1-2 down.
The second half’s nothing to shout about really. Raf and Roux replace Fomba and McCarthy at half time and Zoun comes on for Ferhat for the last 20-odd minutes, but we continue to trail. Augustin Rostand makes a cameo for the last 18 minutes for the visitors, but as the game trundles towards the end, we look buried at the 4th round.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man. Picture the scene if you will: 80 minutes on the clock and a restless crowd of around 7,000 are doing nothing to spur on their struggling team. Suddenly Auxerre win a throw in on the left, level with the Lorient penalty box. Billy throws to Goujon… Back to Billy… Back to Goujon, who turns inside… Squares it to the edge of the area… Mathis Roux takes a touch, turning to face goal from 20 yards. The 16 year old gets the ball out of his feet, takes aim and absolutely smashes the ball past Delestrain’s outstretched right glove.
This lad. This brilliant fucking lad. Mathis Roux and his first Auxerre goal (That wasn’t ruled out for offside by some joyless arse holes with their “rule book”) have put us right back in the game. 2-2.
Rostand actually comes close to taking the lead back for his team 5 minutes from the end when a long ball from Guendouzi gets him away from the knackered Captiste, but when he runs through on goal and fires low, Lenogue pulls off a good save, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. The crowd are back in a more buoyant mood as the referee calls time on the 90 minutes and takes us straight into a penalty shootout.
Mamadou Doucouré is the first man up to the spot, right in from of the home fans. Mamadou’s not had the best luck with penalties at Auxerre, but all streaks end somewhere. His ends today. Go on Mamadou, take it, son.
Saved. Powerful but central. For fucks sake.
Augustin Rostand. Don’t you dare. This isn’t the time for you to get one over on old Franjo in this weird occasional side-narrative we’ve got going on.
SAVED! Too central! LeGod has arrived! Get in!
Raf. Dependable Raf. Sparingly used, but solid and consistent. Get us off the mark mate.
SCORES! Rolled into the bottom right beyond the keeper’s reach. I can’t believe I nearly let him go in the Summer. Raf never lets you down. 1-0.
Juncà for Lorient… Come on, Xavier. Juncà runs up, left footed, central again…
SAVED! You brilliant, infuriating, ridiculous bastard, LeGod!
Hicham Aidir steps up. The last time he took a penalty for Auxerre he missed 2 during last season’s goal drought. As I’ve said, all streaks end somewhere. It’d be nice if you proved me right, Hicham.
SCORES! Firmly planted in the left hand side of the net! He’s well a truly back! 2-0!
Neal Maupay. I don’t really have anything to say about this, other than…
Scores. Of course he does. Powerful and slightly off centre to the left, into the roof of the net. Great striker. 2-1 after 3 penalties each.
Goujon now. The chicken Goujon himself. Dependable? Fairly. Unpredictable? Fairly. Dedicated? Absolutely. Will he score?
SCORES! YES! Drilled right down the middle! Get in, Loïc! 3-1.
Abdoulaye Doucouré, who gave away the penalty that we squandered earlier in the match.
Scores. Low and not so powerful. Lenogue gets a hand to it, but can’t keep it out. 3-2.
Captiste. Well, now it really is squeaky bum time, isn’t it. He’s usually dependable from the spot and seems to almost find the net through sheer willpower alone. He’s been undone once tonight, but not again. You hear me, skipper? Not again.
Saved. A carbon fucking copy of his earlier penalty. Blasted to Delestrain’s left but a fantastic save gives Lorient the opportunity to draw level.
Khidrian for Lorient, scorer of the equalising goal. He can do the same again here as a miss will see Auxerre through to the next round, but a goal would tie things up.
Scores. Low and powerful into the bottom right corner. 3-3 after 5 penalties each.
Zoun. I’ll be honest, my friend, I’d rather it hadn’t come to this point. He’s either brilliant or anonymous and is probably one of the most inconsistent players in the squad. He’s had a bit of an upturn in the last few months though, so I’m hopeful. Go on Zoun. Go on… Wait, is your name Roland?
Misses. Wide of the right hand post. Oh dear.
Gouendouzi to win the game for Lorient and complete the turnaround.
SAVED! Not enough power and not far enough into the corner! Poor penalty but that’s another notch in Lenogue’s gloves!
Billy steps up. When it gets to the 7th penalty, all bets are off really, aren’t they. I have absolutely no idea how good Billy is at penalties.
SCORES! The keeper dives too soon and Billy pumps it right down the centre! 4-3!
Nicolas must score to keep Lorient in it. I’ve got no fingernails left to bite.
Scores. Sends Lenogue the wrong way and plants one right in the bottom left corner. 4-4 after 7 each.
Issa Samba. Ever dependable and now with something to prove since the emergence of Celsiney. Go on, Issa.
Saved. It’s a good penalty, it really is. Low and powerful to the bottom right, but Delestrain pulls out another good save to tip it around the post.
Djédjé is the latest with the opportunity to win it for the visitors.
Scores. Lenogue goes the right way but the ball flies over his head and out of his reach. 5-4 after 16 penalties. It’s over.
Losing on penalties to one of France’s best sides is nothing to be ashamed of. I’m fairly pleased with tonight, apart from that big chunk in the middle of the match where we went missing and shipped 2 goals. Actually, that’s a pretty big “apart from” isn’t it. It happens though. We’re out of the Coupe de la Ligue at the 4th round. I’ll need to go and sleep for about 16 hours after that.