Sunday 21 May 2017

There's Always Next Season

Comes a time every season when you have to acknowledge that the fat lady has indeed sung, that the orchestra is across the road in the pub, and that all we are left with is either the elation of success, the disappointment of failure, or something in between, a sense of ‘fair enough, let’s go again in August’. For us it is failure, on and off the pitch as Duchatelet is still in situ. For our near neighbours it is something more than success. Palace somehow remain in a division well above their status, Millwall inconceivably will find themselves in the second flight. The world is indeed upside down. It will right itself sooner or later. But for those looking for an inspiring miracle from across the Channel. I’m sorry to say that Lyon Duchere didn’t quite manage to secure promotion to France’s second division.

Going into the final round, Duchere needed five results to go their way in order to move up from seventh to third and go into a play-off against the team finishing third-bottom in Ligue 2. One of the five was not surprisingly them winning their final game, away at Epinal. That didn’t happen, Duchere going down 1-2 against a team which needed to win to have a chance of avoiding relegation. Seems it was goalless at half-time, when the Duchere players perhaps saw how other games were going and accepted the inevitable. Epinal scored first, Duchere equalised, but Epinal scored another to secure the three points. It did them no good. With Pau winning 3-0 away at Concarneau – a team which earlier in the season looked like running away with the league only to fall apart – Epinal managed to get above Bastia but still ended fourth-bottom and drop into a regional fourth division. I hope the Duchere and Epinal players shared a glass or two in mutual commiseration.

With their victories in the previous round of games, Chateauroux and Quevilly Rouen had already guaranteed that they would take the top two places and automatic promotion. Seems they hadn’t stopped celebrating as the former only scraped a 1-1 home draw with lowly Les Herbiers to end the season while Rouen got turned over 4-0 away at Chambly, who like Duchere went into the final round with a chance of that third spot and promotion. As a result of their home point Chateauroux – who had defeated Duchere in the penultimate round – take the title of champions, but you get the impression that neither they nor Rouen could give a toss about that – and may still be celebrating.

So Chambly did what they needed to do. So did Marseilles Consolat, who beat Bastia 3-2 to consign them to relegation. And so did Paris FC, with what looks like a comfortable 2-0 home win against Creteil (which for the record meant that so far of the five games that Duchere needed to go their way four had not). The team that really blew it was Dunkerque. A victory at home to Boulogne would have ensured third place for them. But in what looks like the game of the round they went 0-2 down in the first 30 mins. They got back on level terms by the 72nd minute only for Boulogne to score again in the 79th minute. Dunkerque drew level again six minutes later, but couldn’t find the winner that would have lifted them from sixth to third. Consequently it will be Paris FC who go into the play-off for the chance to get up into the second division alongside Chateauroux and Rouen, despite managing only 30 goals in the 34 games (they conceded just 18).

In the play-off Paris FC will face Orleans, who went down 1-4 away at Le Havre in the final round but still finished above Red Star, who went down 0-1 at Auxerre (who could themselves have dropped into the play-off spot if they had lost and Orleans won). But the media not surprisingly focused on the top of the table, which truly went to the wire. Six teams going for two automatic promotion places and a play-off spot, with little between them. The stats will show that all six of them won their games. But even the BBC picked up on what happened, as Amiens scored a 96th-minute winner to move back up from sixth to second place. They go up with Strasbourg, leaving Troyes in the play-off place.

So La Duche have to content themselves with a first season in France’s third division which they surely would have taken when the season started. In terms of attendances and resources they are punching some way above their weight, over-achieving. They were top of the league early on and always in with a shout of promotion. At half-time against Dunkerque they were sitting second, with three-and-a-half games to go. But they just fell short, lost their last three games (and actually lost five of their last eight, winning only two). No matter, it was a fine campaign. They can consider themselves as a club on the rise. What I wouldn’t give to be able to say the same about us this time next year. 

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Duchere: It Ain't Done Yet

To those of you looking for solace in the wake of confirmation that thanks to Hull’s capitulation the English football world will remain upside down next season, first the good news. Going into the final round of games for National, France’s third division, Lyon Duchere still have a chance of promotion. But I’m sorry to say that’s about as far as it goes. If you get to the bookies ahead of Friday’s matches you would get pretty decent odds.

Having in the previous round slid on the banana skin that was away at Chambly, Duchere last Friday went down 0-2 at home to Chateauroux. It was always going to be a tough ask, with their opponents occupying one of the two automatic promotion spots. I don’t have first-hand details of what happened, but they’ve managed to get highlights of the game up on the official Duchere site rather sooner than usual, so the pain can be witnessed. Looked like a tight first half with little in the way of chances in a game which Duchere really had to win. Then on 50 minutes a decent cross from the right was met with a deft glancing header from a Chateauroux forward, with the ball going in off the far post. That probably knocked the stuffing out of La Duche and nine minutes later the game was effectively over as a bit of trickery down the left side sucked in defenders and when the cross went to the far post their guy was unmarked and headed in. Looks like after that Duchere could have conceded more before a couple of late opportunities from low crosses went begging.

As a result Duchere have fallen back to seventh. With the other top-four clash seeing Quevilly Rouen beat Dunkerque 2-0, Rouen and Chateauroux are now sure of the top two places and automatic promotion, both on 58 points, with Rouen first on goal difference. With Duchere and Dunkerque both losing, the way was clear for Paris FC, the form team, to come through. But they lost 0-1 away at relegation-threatened Bastia, while Marseille Consolat were beaten 3-2 at bottom-placed Belfort. Now those results have some significance for Duchere as a win for either of those two and the fat lady would indeed have sung. As it is, it’s stretching a point to say that there’s still all to play for in the final round, but it ain’t done yet.

It is still possible for Duchere to get back up to third and take the play-off spot (against the team finishing third-bottom in Ligue 2, currently Orleans). All that needs to happen is first, that Duchere win away at Epinal, who themselves need to win to have any chance of avoiding relegation (they sit second-bottom). That would take Duchere up to 53 points. Second, that Dunkerque do not win at home to Boulogne (OK, it probably requires them to lose as a draw would put Dunkerque also on 53 points and at present they have a goal difference of +14 against Duchere’s +4, so we’d need a sizeable swing). Third, that Paris FC, currently on 51 points, do not win at home to Creteil (who are safe from relegation and may already be on their holidays); a draw would be good enough for Duchere to be able to overtake them. And fourth, that Marseille Consolat, also on 51 points, do not win at home to Bastia (who need to win to be sure of avoiding relegation). Oh, and fifth, that Chambly, now a place above Duchere on 51 points, do not win their final game, at home to Rouen (who do still have the incentive of the title of champions to go for).

A long shot? You could say that. I am trying to persuade my partner Suzannne that it is still possible. But being French she thinks it’s all done if you’re 0-1 down with 20 minutes to go. It talk to her (at length) about a game that ended 7-6, one at Wembley when a team was behind three times and emerged winners, one when on a dark night in Birmingham a team scored twice in the final seven minutes of extra time to come from behind. Blimey, I even stretched to being 0-3 down at home to Barnsley and coming out 5-3 winners with Steve Dowman scoring twice; but by then even I was aware it was all getting a bit esoteric. Suffice to say that come the end of this week I expect to be telling the tale of how Duchere somehow made it into the play-off and after that how they saw off Orleans to take their place in France’s second division.

Saturday 6 May 2017

Mon Pauvre Duchere

You may infer from the headline that this is not going to be a tale of glorious success for my adopted French team, Lyon Duchere. Going into last night’s round of games they were in third place in National, France’s third division, with three games to go, with the top two getting automatic promotion and the third-placed team going into a play-off with the third-bottom team from the second division. And effectively there were five teams competing for the places. All five had what looked on paper like winnable games; three of them were to achieve victory and two were defeated. Regrettably Duchere were one of the two.

I’ve no details on the game but Duchere went down 1-2 away at Chambly. The other losers were league-leaders Quevilly Rouen, 1-2 away at Beziers. Before the previous round they were six points clear at the top with four to play but have now lost successive games. Of the others involved, second-placed Chateauroux beat lowly Pau 1-0 at home, Dunkerque – who Duchere had beaten 4-1 in the previous round of games and had as a result slipped to fourth – won 2-1 at home to Les Herbiers, and Paris FC – who had been coming up on the rails – secured a 1-0 home win against bottom-placed Belfort. As a result Rouen are now only top on goal difference from Chateauroux, both on 55 points with two games to play. Dunkerque have moved back up to third, on 52 points, Paris are up to fourth on 51, while Duchere have dropped to fifth on 50 points.

It isn’t yet game over for Duchere. But now it would appear they have to win their final two games and hope for some other results to go their way if they are to get back into the top three. Those who have been following avidly news of La Duche will be aware that in the next round they will host Chateauroux, while Rouen are at home to Dunkerque. Now well and truly in the mix, Paris will be away to relegation-threatened Bastia. Basically Duchere have to beat their promotion rivals and hope that Rouen beat Dunkerque and that Paris do not win their game.

That combination of results – not an impossible one but something of a best-case scenario – would see Rouen promoted with a game to spare on 58 points, Chateauroux second on 55, Duchere up to third on 53, with Dunkerque and Paris below them. In that event Duchere would know that a victory in their final match, away to Epinal (currently in a relegation spot), would put them into the play-off (as things stand against Orleans, who have moved above Red Star in the second division), with a remote chance of securing second, which requires Chateauroux failing to win at home to Les Herbiers (if it came down to goal difference Duchere would be above them).

At least for Duchere it is clear: anything other than glorious victory next Friday evening and it’s almost certainly done (you can come up with some very unlikely combinations if it’s a draw, even a defeat). Whatever happens it’s been a splendid first season in the third flight for Duchere; but we’re not ready to call time on it yet.