Sunday, 25 March 2018

Positive Omens (For Me) From Duchere

What a difference a win makes. Suddenly it’s game on once more, especially with both Scunthorpe and Peterborough failing to win at home. We are back, however bizarrely, in the position that if everyone wins all the games they have left we will secure a play-off spot. Of course there are going to be twists and turns, and one win doesn’t make for a real about-turn. But we’re back in the mix and with grounds for hope (assuming of course that because of the result Roland hasn’t just added another few million to the agreed asking price).

I can’t of course comment on the performance and mood as I wasn’t there (but all the reports are suitably positive). But I was at a football match on Friday night and, although the fortunes of my adopted French team Lyon Duchere are not going to be of interest to many Addicks, something quite pertinent happened, rather unexpectedly. Best start at the beginning.

Duchere have of later managed to stabilise results and their league position (in France’s third division, National). After a poor run of results through to early February saw them drop into a relegation place (four go down out of 18 – and this season it’s rather confusing as there are only 17 teams competing, someone pulled out or something else happened to the eighteenth team is ‘Exempt’, which on paper fulfils fixtures against the other teams but no points are awarded) and they stopped the rot with a 1-0 win away at Marseille Consolat, the following three games ended in draws: the 2-2 home game against Entente, which was notable for two outrageous goals flagged up back home in The Guardian (the second of which was a stunning stoppage-time equaliser for Duchere), a 3-3 draw away at Avranches (which featured another stoppage-time equaliser, but this time of the unwelcome variety), then a creditable 1-1 home draw against high-flying Rodez.

The next round saw Duchere notionally away at Exempt, so no points accrued. But going into Friday’s home game against Boulogne on paper Duchere were unbeaten in five rounds but with only one actual win. And in a ridiculously tight league they were still just one point above a relegation place. So, not unlike us yesterday, something of a must-win game. Boulogne were placed above Duchere in the league but only by three points, with no chance of promotion (it has tightened up a little at the top as Red Star have fallen away rather and Laval and Beziers have moved into contention, although Rodez and Grenoble still top the league and the battle for the two automatic promotion spots and the play-off place really involves the top five, with now a five-point gap to sixth).

The first 10 minutes or so were cagey. Boulogne moved the ball well and had a left-winger who looked dangerous, while Duchere looked confident and as though they had a plan, starting the game with their big centre-forward. He held play up well and others fed off him and through hard work Duchere began to get on top. It was clear that with the guy up front and tall centre-backs they had a height advantage from set pieces and the Boulogne keeper looked dodgy, spilling a couple of balls and not looking commanding in the air. You sensed a set-piece could be an opportunity for Duchere, but we were kept wondering as the first couple of corners they won were wasted, not even clearing the midriff of the guy on the near post. Corner number three after around 20 minutes and things changed. Good pace and elevation and one of the centre-backs made a run to the near post, was first to the ball, and planted the header into the net.

That seemed to settle some nerves and for the rest of the first half Duchere were well on top, playing decent stuff and creating chances, while Boulogne struggled to retain the ball. Duchere broke on the right side and while the first shot was parried by the keeper the defender muffed the clearance and was lucky to see the ball hit the bar and go over, then just before the break another ball into the box and another header, this one came crashing back off the bar.

At the break Duchere were good value for their lead and nobody could have complained if they had been two to the good. But at half-time they collectively had a nose bleed. They began well enough but it seemed to me that some early joy in sitting back and intercepting Boulogne’s forward moves to hit them on the break turned into a tactic which progressively backfired. Duchere began to go deep, very deep. They had put in a big effort in the first half and may well have been tiring, Boulogne of course had nothing to lose, and nerves may well have played a part. You actually had to go back to 24 November for Duchere’s last home win.

Whatever the reasons, the second half increasingly became a backs-to-the-wall job. Now balls were hit long and high out of defence to a knackered front-man with no support. They just kept coming back. Duchere’s packed defence coped well for most of the time, but there were moments, in particular when for once a guy was free and beat the Duchere keeper to the ball, only for his header to settle onto the roof of the net. Fine margins indeed. And late on an erratic referee (who received an earful in English walking off) developed a habit of ignoring rather blatant fouls only to whistle for the next contact. One end-result was a Boulogne free-kick just outside the area. In stoppage time there was a final drama as Duchere’s keeper came out to clear and was left stranded. But the blessed relief of the final whistle came shortly after and Duchere had the points. At the break they were deservedly ahead, at full-time nobody could have complained had Boulogne grabbed at least an equaliser.

Even now Duchere are only two points above a relegation place, it really is that tight. ‘Exempt ‘on paper occupies the bottom place and Creteil look as if they’ve gone, with just 21 points from 24 played and an eight-points gap to the team above them in 16th, Avranches. Chambly now occupy the last relegation place, level on points (29) with Avranches. To put things in context they won 6-2 on Friday. Above them are three teams on 30 points (Dunkerque, Marseille Consolat and Pau), then Duchere, along with Boulogne and Les Herbiers, on 31. Seventh-placed Cholet with 32 points are just three above the relegation places, that’s how tight it is. In the next round Duchere have a tough one, away to second-placed Grenoble. After that a six-pointer at home to Dunkerque, then away to currently third-placed Laval. So it isn’t going to be easy any time soon.

What was strange about Friday night was me. Now for sure I want Duchere to avoid relegation but in terms of emotional commitment they’re not exactly on a par with Charlton, whatever the effect of the past few years. We went to the game knowing it was an important one, and it proved to be tight right to the end, not exactly a classic but gripping in its way. And I found myself shouting out in exasperation over refereeing decisions, head in hands as a Duchere breakaway in the final minutes wasn’t converted, and genuinely anxious when Boulogne threatened. In short, I was involved and it mattered.

Now I can’t say what it’s going to be like for me and other boycotters assuming the takeover happens and matches at The Valley (plus the periodic trip away) become part of life again. Will we be able to pick up where we left off? If Friday’s anything to go it may be easier than we might fear.

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