Friday 13 February 2009

Bottom Fishing

Ah, what bliss it’s been. Almost two weeks free of feeling obliged to stare at the league table and contemplate all possible paths to survival. No meaningful news, no speculation about the manager, no matches. Peace. Well, except for a somewhat fraught trip to Amsterdam (having struggled out through the snow the return should have been a doddle – and was until City Airport was closed due to an aircraft bursting a tyre) and crafting a tax return (yes, I know they were supposed to be submitted by end-January but some works of fiction take a little longer to construct).

And its not as if there’s much to say about Plymouth. Never seen us play there, no strong recollection of clashes with them in the past. I even had to dig out a programme to remind myself how we did against them last season. A 2-1 reverse at home in October (during our first sticky patch when thoughts of running away with the division were first questioned) and a 2-1 win at their place (the one where Weaver was sent off early on). That’s about it. You can’t really dislike them and we all remember with some affection Michael Foot and his green-and-white scarf. But let’s try.

First off, their chairman has been whining about the ‘unfair’ advantage given to some teams in the Championship by parachute payments. It seems he is stressing trying to get promoted “the right way”. Well, if you don’t have any alternatives you might as well try to claim the moral high ground. I’m now a firm believer that there should be parachute payments made to teams relegated from the Championship, given the financial traumas that this can produce. Perhaps Plymouth could be persuaded to contribute. They did after all make a profit of £1.1m last season by flogging a few players.

Second, while I’ve no axe to grind with the guy the manager, Paul Sturrock, reminds me of our failures (as Nico sang, please don’t confront me with them, I have not forgotten them). Southampton took a chance on him after Gordon Strachan departed and it all went pear-shaped for them. It served as a chilling reminder at the time that for clubs like us and Southampton it only takes one naff season.

Third, and I remember now, it was Plymouth’s thug who took out Todorov last season. That’s enough to justify a change of heart. I really don’t like Plymouth. And a glance at the league table doesn’t exactly fill me with joy. They have conceded only 17 goals in 16 games away from home this season. With our home strike rate not exactly, ahem, impressive the odds would seem to favour neither side scoring more than one. In that context a 0-0 or 1-0 win might be the likeliest outcome. Sod it, let’s just score four and take the draw.

In fact once tomorrow is out of the way and we have narrowed the gap there will be a further three weeks without direct heartbreak as I won’t be making trips to Barnsley or Swansea (I shall be hiding out in Lyon) and will be out of the country (Amsterdam again) for the Doncaster game. So after tomorrow from me its just going to be random waffle until Watford. Plus ca change.

The sojourn in France will, however, give me the opportunity to watch some football. Lyon Duchere take on Saint-Etienne B tomorrow week and I shall be there, providing strong vocal (if rather meaningless) encouragement. Should be a lively encounter as there’s not a great deal of love lost between Lyon and Saint-Etienne, which is traditionally the more working-class and industrial near neighbour. Since their slight 5-1 reverse in the local derby against Olympique Lyonnais’ reserves La Duch have had mixed fortunes. First, they went down 3-2 away to then mid-table Agde (somewhere I’d never heard of, so I did a quick check; seems its just along the coast from Marseilles with Cape d’Agde a leading naturist resort – if the tax authorities come calling and take away my pc this really was in the interests of research). But they followed this up with a splendid 2-0 home win against Villefranche/Saone, the team they were promoted with last season (a delightful town in Beaujolais country).

As a result Lyon Duchere are still hanging on to fourth place in the (18-team) league (CFA Groupe B). But it looks as though they will soon be overhauled by OL B, who are only two points behind with two games in hand. It still looks to me as though the champions of the division are promoted automatically and that there is some sort of play-off/lottery involving the second and third-placed sides. Hyeres (seemingly another coastal resort, just east of Toulon, although of the more traditional variety) seem to be running away with the title, having lost only one game in 18 and conceded just seven goals (they’ve scored only 20 goals in the 18 games yet have won 10 of them – oh, for a defence like that). Toulon could catch them and in any event look secure in second, while the ubiquitous Andrezieux (something of a toilet; I should know I went to La Duch’s away game there – I really must do this sort of research before planning trips, going to an agricultural backwater but missing out on the coastal resorts) are in third, with the same number of points as Lyon Duchere but having played three games less.

Before they can count on my support there is the small matter of an away game tomorrow, against Jura Sud. They are bottom of the league with just three wins in 17 games. So Duchere will expect victory – and if they are to make it into the top three and rekindle promotion hopes a win tomorrow and then against Saint-Etienne B (currently in ninth place) would seem to be necessary. Basically there’s only one bottom-placed team we want to see walk away with the points this weekend.

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