Most Addicks will no doubt be content to switch off from football this evening, ahead of tomorrow’s confirmation of a play-off place (or a play-off for a play-off place, or not as the case may be). But those of us who split our time between south-east London and Lyon and who follow Lyon Duchere (admittedly the sample size is not large) will be holding our breath as the scores come through from the penultimate round of matches in National, France’s third division. Let me try to set the scene, for those who may not have been following developments in this ridiculously tight league.
My last update on Duchere’s fortunes followed a vital 1-0 home win against Boulogne in the 27th round (of 34), a game which I witnessed and which took them up to eighth in the 18-team league (in reality only 17, apparently resulting from the extreme demotion of Corsica’s Bastia for financial irregularities) but still left them only two points above a relegation place (four of 18 go down, which this season means three of 17). Next up for Duchere was a tough away game at promotion-chasing Grenoble. They only went and won it, 2-1, albeit with luck on their side. Grenoble had a player sent off after just 25 minutes but still took the lead early in the second half. Duchere managed an equaliser and then had a one-on-one with the keeper, who saved the attempt on goal only for it to rebound off a defender trying to get back and into the net. Duchere walked away with the points against their far better-resourced near neighbours, putting a big dent in Grenoble’s promotion push.
That result left Duchere with a reasonable cushion, albeit with no realistic chance of a late promotion bid. But since then it’s got tricky again. In round 29 Duchere’s poor home form came back to haunt them as they lost 0-1 to Dunkerque. Renewed anxiety seemed to be eased with round 30 as once more Duchere went to a promotion-chasing team, this time Laval, and came away with a victory, 1-0. All was lined up for a win in round 31 at home against all-but-relegated Creteil, which would surely cement their place in the division for next season. However, all Duchere could manage was a 1-1 draw, taking the lead with about 20 minutes left and then conceding just a couple of minutes later. And in round 32 Duchere had yet another tough away game, at Beziers, and this time couldn’t upset the form book, going down 0-1.
So now Duchere have slipped back to 11th in the league, still some comfort from the number of teams below them, but are back to being only two points above a relegation place, on 38 points with two games left. And for good measure tonight Duchere will travel to top-of-the-table Red Star, who are all but promoted but require one point to be mathematically sure – and to be confirmed as champions, with Grenoble and Beziers fighting it out for the second automatic promotion place, the loser probably going into a play-off (Rodez have an outside chance of finishing second or third).
Tonight Duchere could of course return from Paris with the three points, which would guarantee survival; a point would be a great result and could be enough, depending on other results. Creteil have gone and will finish notionally second-bottom, but the two other places are undecided. Marseille Consolat are currently 16th on 34 points. Tonight they travel to Boulogne and a defeat there would possibly send them down (although they are at home to Dunkerque in the final round). At the moment the splendidly named Les Herbiers occupy the final relegation place. Tonight they are at home to Laval, who have fallen away in the promotion race and may already be on their holidays (but in the final round are away at Beziers, who may well need to win to get promoted).
In between Duchere and the relegation places sit (reading up) Pau, Entente SSG, and Avranches. Pau are this evening away at Creteil, who have only pride to play for; they finish the season at home to Red Star, who may by then be in party mode. Entente have only one game left, in the final round (notionally tonight they have a home game against the non-existent 18th-placed team), when they are away to Grenoble (who like Beziers will probably need to win). Avranches are away to Rodez this evening and round things off with a home game against Boulogne.
For Duchere, again a win tonight and they are safe, a draw and it’s looking good – but a defeat and it’s probable that they will need something out of the last match, at home to mid-table (but still not yet mathematically-safe) Chambly. Since Entente get no points this evening, the worst that can happen to Duchere – if every result goes against them - is that they would drop to 14th, one place above the relegation places (Marseilles Consolat can’t overtake them yet).
That of course means that everything is still in Duchere’s own hands. Whatever happens tonight, a win at home in the last game and they are safe irrespective of what others may do. Shouldn’t be so hard, against a team with probably nothing to play for. Just that Duchere’s recent home form is lamentable. They’ve won only four out of 15 at home this season (drawn seven and lost four) and if memory serves (oh come on, I can’t check everything) that victory over Boulogne is their only home win this year. Add in what would probably be some very nervous players out there and who knows what might happen.
Never fear. This Englishman witnessed their only home victory this year and, as chance would have it, I will be in Lyon for next Friday’s game (I realise there are probably some important Charlton games coming up but I’m back to a Lyon trip each month and couldn’t manage a mid-month trip or risk Wembley after that). I hope my services as a lucky omen are not required, but if it’s all to play for could be quite a night.