So that’s that then, isn’t it. There will be no cup run for Auxerre this season. There will be no scalp of AS Monaco. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still more than happy with our league position, but it’s slightly annoying that one by one, my pre-season ambitions are falling by the wayside. There are still a couple of things to go for though: As weird as it sounds, the Europa League is very much within our reach and we can also still scalp Pep Guardiola’s Paris Saint-Germain. If we’re to pull either of those off we need to start building up some kind of momentum. The PSG match is only a week away which doesn’t give us much time, but we can get ourselves ready by hammering Guingamp at our place.
We’ll be ditching Project: ToWin because that was specific for the Toulouse match and bringing back the much used and much loved Project: Meatloaf, which will give us the best chance of tearing our opposition apart with quick, attacking football. I’m making some personnel changes too as I was less than pleased with Mamadou Doucouré’s and Rogério’s performances, while Bassani has no place in our 4-2-3-1 unless I bench Phil Foden, which isn’t really happening, so he’s dropped too. Captiste and Billy are reinstated into defence, while Amine Reynier gets his first Auxerre start and will play behind Aidir. I reckon this is the perfect match in which to give Amine the opportunity to get up and running for the club, so let’s see what he’s got.
As much as today seems like a good opportunity to get 3 points on the board, sometimes you’ve just got to shrug and accept that your luck just isn’t in. I’m slightly disappointed when Gaizka Basauri picks up a yellow card after just 75 seconds for over-eagerly going through Zlicic from behind, but I’m just borderline impressed when he picks up a second just 2 minutes later. 3 minutes and 30 seconds into what I’ve been looking forward to as a winnable game, Basauri pushes Krastev as he goes for a header and sees red. What a start. I’d say Gaizka’s going for an early bath, but he’s not even had chance to get a sweat on yet so there’s not much point. Silly lad.
Unfortunately, I have to shuffle things around slightly to deal with our numerical disadvantage and that means that Reynier drops back alongside Fomba. I was looking forward to seeing what he can do from the start behind the striker, but it looks like that particular experiment will have to wait. Still, he still has license to get forward when Fomba hangs back and covers for him.
Even more unfortunately, after half an hour we go behind to a well worked Guingamp move, ending with Krastev squaring the ball for Pavlovic on the edge of our 6 yard box. The striker has a yard of space on his marker Isaac Sohna and has plenty of time to turn and nonchalantly place the ball into the bottom corner.
Straight from kick off, Guingamp come forward in search of a second, but luckily Celsiney shows great determination to chase down Zlicic and win the ball. The full back plays it to Hicham Aidir, who releases Ferhat with a good ball into the channel and gets himself to the edge of the box for the return ball. Ferhat plays it back and Aidir sends a shot rocketing into the top left corner to equalise. That’s what I like to see! We pick our moments sometimes, but there’s definitely some fucking fight in this team.
The score remains 1-1 when the teams trudge in for the half time break and I’m going to shuffle things a bit more. Fomba and Foden have looked leggy towards the end of the first half and so Sissako and Bassani are coming on to replace them. The introduction of Sissako also has the benefit of him being more suited to the defensive holding man role that Lamine’s had to pick up since Basauri’s sending off. We’ll use pace and fresh legs of Bassani by playing a bit more direct and into space, attacking with more pace and running at Guingamp’s defence. Our front three plus Reynier playing in this way should really strike fear into a middle-of-the-road Ligue 1 team like Guingamp.
It takes less than 3 minutes of the second half for us to reap the benefits of our tactical changes. Even better, it’s Amine Reynier that starts the attack that leads to our second goal, spraying a fantastic pass onto the left wing for Billy to chase after. The Moroccan takes on his man and crosses, Vatãjelu heads clear but only as far as Brahim Ferhat, who gets his head over the ball and smashes a volley into the bottom corner. The 10 man turnaround is complete. Now let’s bloody hold onto this lead.
The playing field is levelled in the 57th minute when Aidir receives the ball just inside our half and has a chance to break, as Guingamp have committed too many men forward. Centre back Lien, already on a booking, sees this and panics, grabbing our striker by the arm and dragging him to the floor. It’s a professional foul, a second booking and the second red card of the match. Suddenly we’re looking pretty bloody comfortable. Guingamp manager Antoine Kombouaré responds to this by changing things around a bit to a narrow 4-4-1 diamond, so naturally we’ll try and capitalise by focussing our play down the wings, where there should now be plenty of space in which to work.
For a while, things are comfortable. Very comfortable. 70 minutes on the clock, then 75, then 80, then 85. Still comfortable. Still winning. And then in a moment of chaos, Djuricic manages to slide a pass into our box, where I’m horrified to realise that Captiste is marking 2 attackers, while Isaac Sohna stands picking his nose in the corner. There’s nothing our captain can do. Krastev breaks away from him, turns and blasts the ball past Lenogue and into the net. 2-2. 2024 is taking the fucking piss.
But you can never underestimate a team that’s got some fight in them. Guingamp are certainly that. They must be to score such a late equaliser. But as I’ve mentioned, we are too. Specifically, young Celsiney has got some fight in him. The 17 year old Brazilian-born right back, who’s really starting to make a serious case for ousting Issa Samba on a permanent basis, picks up the ball on the right wing in the 89th minute and drives at the defence. He takes on Walter… He takes on Vatãjelu… He curls in a beauty of a cross, right into the 6 yard box… And Hicham Aidir lets it bounce before blasting in the winning goal from close range. Heroes.
Goujon makes a late appearance in place of Reynier, helping us to sure things up as we park the bus through injury time. It works. We went a long way round to get there, but the final score is 3-2 to AJ Auxerre, who move back up to 5th in Ligue 1. I think we can be pretty pleased with this one.
For his brace, Hicham Aidir gets a spot in the Ligue 1 Team of the Week. I’ve certainly talked about how pleased I am with Hicham at times this season, but it’s worth repeating. The lad cannot be stopped. I genuinely really feared for him after his horrible 2022/23 season and seriously questioned whether he had it in him to perform at this level, but those 2 goals against Guingamp were his 14th and 15th of the season. He’s proved himself in the South African Premier Soccer League, he’s proved himself in Ligue 2 and now, off the back of a broken leg for fucks sake, he’s proved himself in Ligue 1. Hicham Aidir, I have decided, can be as good as he wants to be. He is a Moroccan monster and he is fucking unstoppable.
Fabien McCarthy on the other hand is unstartable. Is that a word? Who cares. The South African playmaker comes knock-knock-knocking on Franjo’s door a couple of days after the Guingamp match and asks me about the possibility of playing more football. It’s a fair request as after he started the season with some questionable performances that admittedly included some moments of pure magic, he’s not featured in quite a while. After some consideration, I agree to give him a run of games. He won’t be needed against PSG though.
So here it is: Probably my last chance to scalp one of the big clubs with Auxerre. Our combined record against Monaco and PSG has been abysmal and the best we’ve done is pick up a point against Pep’s men in that 1-1 draw last season thanks to a Lamine Fomba equaliser and a large slice of luck. We’ll need an even larger slice today if we’re to finally pick up all 3 points against them away from home.
I’m bringing back Project: Sword, but I feel like this really is the last chance for the system. After Monaco demolished us in what was designed to be a defensively solid set up, I’m seriously losing faith in it. Hopefully we’ll fare better today. Basauri will obviously miss out through suspension and I’m also dropping Reynier and Ferhat as there’s not really a place for them in Sword. Doucouré comes back in and will join Isaac Sohna in defence while Captiste moves up as the holding man, where he’s been training for about 18 months and so should do a job. He’ll play alongside Loïc Goujon, who also comes into the team with Abi Sissako.
I hate everything. 1 minute and 3 seconds it takes them. 1 minute and 3 seconds. I spent longer brushing my teeth this morning than we’ve managed to keep the score at 0-0. It’s a simple goal too: Renan Henrique gets away down the right wing and whips a cross in for young striker Manuel Bueno, who stoops to nod the ball past Lenogue at his near post. 0-1. 10 minutes later it’s 2. Sissako makes a great slide tackle on Diawara on the edge of our box, but PSG’s number 10 Cvitanovic gathers the loose ball and blasts it goalwards from 20 yards. The trajectory of the ball is altered massively when it slaps off Isaac Sohna’s thigh, sending it into the top right corner. Own goal. 0-2.
By the quarter of an hour mark I start to think that my pre-match optimism of a scalp may once again have been misplaced. Renan Henrique bombs down the right wing again, floats a cross to the back stick, Kean rises above Sohna and heads the ball off the post, after which it hits Lenogue and rolls torturously slowly over the line. 0-3.
To Auxerre’s credit, we last 20 minutes before the next truckload of misery is piled on. This time it’s Lamine Fomba’s slide tackle on Ruben Neves that knocks the ball perfectly to Bueno on the penalty spot. The Spaniard takes a touch and rolls it into the corner for 0-4 and I’d very much like today to be over now. I do ask the fourth official if there’s any chance of an early full time whistle, but he just grins and apologises, so I suppose I’m going to have to make some changes. Project: Sword is dead, so we swap to Project: ToWin as I think our only option now is to try and keep the scoreline as low as possible. I also make a 35th minute double substitution, bringing off Captiste and Fomba and replacing them with Ferhat and Reynier.
Ironic cheers come from the away end in first half injury time when Bueno finds himself through on goal but has his shot tipped acrobatically over the bar by Xavier Lenogue, which may actually be the first save he’s made today. The second half is much quieter than the first though, which I put down to a combination of our tactical change and probably a fair amount of pity from Pep. We go on the counter, then Andre comes on for a 15 minute run out, taking the captain’s armband from Aidir. But then with 5 minutes to go, the final nail is hammered into our coffin with a carbon copy of PSG’s first goal: Henrique’s cross, Bueno’s header to complete the hat trick. They’ve both been excellent today and if I’d had the luxury of being a neutral observer somewhere far, far away, I might even have enjoyed their performances.
As it stands though I am WT Franjo, manager of Association de la Jeunesse Auxerroise and recipient of a shameful, painful battering in Paris.