Board expectation: make the playoffs

At the start of the season, I’d expected the board to invite me into their Portacabin and demand that I get ESTAC Troyes promoted straight back up into Ligue 1. I was pleasantly surprised that that they were happy to finish in the playoff positions, but even so, I was desperate to move up a division, and make it to the top flight.

Right up until Christmas our form was patchy, and to that point, I never felt like I was fully in control of the team; I couldn’t quite figure out our best formation, or indeed, the first choice 11.

During the winter break, I organised a few friendlies, with the hope of banging in a ton of goals against some minor teams, and raising the confidence of the squad. It worked, to an extent. 14 goals scored with only 1 reply, across 4 matches. However, our first competitive match after the break ended in a 0-0 draw, so I still wasn’t sure where we stood.

And so we reach the closing months of the season with a battle ahead of us. At the start of January, we’re in 2nd position, miles off the pace being set by Valenciennes CF. We close out the month with another 0-0 draw and a fairly convincing 3-2 win away to Stade Lavallois MFC. Our first competitive goals in what feels like an age come from veteran Marvin Martin, and Tristan Dingomé. The latter scores a brace and then gets himself a summer move to the Belgian side AA Gent, who trigger a release clause in his contract.

Our 4 games in February epitomise the form we’ve had all year. A draw, a loss, and a couple of victories. The 1-0 win against La Berrichonne sees Anthony Derouard score for the first time in a while, but Karim Azamoum gets himself sent off with half an hour to go, ensuring a nervy finish. The 3-2 win away at Amiens FC is a similarly nervous occasion. 2-2 with 15 minutes to go, Amiens concede an own goal on 90+2, and we get loanee Lucas Dumai sent off on 90+4.

We’re still kicking around between the automatic promotion place (2nd) and the promotion playoff (3rd) so it looks like the teams around us are suffering the same fate. In fact, Valenciennes look to be struggling; ourselves and Angers SCO don’t seem to be as far behind them as we were a month ago.

March starts with our 3rd victory in a row, and is quickly followed by a defeat. We were lucky to win that opener; Chamois Niortais FC’s Jérémy Choplin knocking it past his own keeper to give us a squeaky 1-0 win. We win the next game a bit more comfortably. Derouard and Kamel Chergui made it 2-0 after 12 minutes, before USL Dunkerque went on a bit of a kicking spree and got half their team booked.

April’s not good.

LDLLW

That’s the kind of form that sees you drop out of the promotion playoff spot. And it does. The only consolation I take from this period, is that our win is against fellow promotion contenders FC Metz. We beat them 1-0 and weirdly shoot back up to 3rd and into the playoff spot once more.

As we go into May, Valenciennes have dropped to 2nd and the top 3 looks like this:

  1. Angers SCO
  2. Valenciennes FC
  3. ESTAC Troyes

We’re 5 points behind Valenciennes with a worse goal difference, but we play them in the penultimate game of the season. 2nd place means automatic promotion, but behind us in 4th are Clermont Foot, who have just got themselves a new manager and with it, a new lease of life.

First, it’s a trip to Stade de Reims, where we pick up a 2-0 win. Souhail Labyad gets his first goal of the season. He’s a striker, so that’s not a great return. To be fair, I’ve barely played him, preferring Derouard, whose season kinda fell away after a great start. Dumai gets the 2nd goal, and our win comes at the same time as the top 2 draw 2-2.

We’re only 3 points behind Valenciennes, and we play them at home next. If we win by 4 or more goals, we leapfrog them into 2nd.

Labyad equalises their early opener, and then 19-yo winger Brandon Domingues puts us 2-1 up heading into the break. We’re looking good for the win throughout the 2nd half, until an equaliser on 90+2 minutes kicks us in the stomach and robs us of a couple of points.

The final game of the season is away at RC Strasbourg Alsace. We need to win, and hope that Valenciennes lose. Unfortunately, we shrink under the pressure, and stumble to a 1-0 defeat. Meanwhile, Valenciennes draw their fourth game in a row and finish in the automatic promotion spot.

We’re into the playoff. The board is happy and I’m offered a new contract. But all that I’m interested in is the next couple of games.

They’re against FC Sochaux-Montbéliard, who finished 18th in Ligue 1, just 2 points from safety. In theory, we should be the form team. I’m confident.

And I should be. The home leg’s 1st and we batter them 2-0. All the stats are in our favour and they couldn’t have complained if we’d taken 4 or 5 from them. The away leg is only a couple of days later and, although the team are tired, I go with the same 11, and we launch into an early lead. We trade goals until it’s 2-2, and then they get a man sent off. I’m tempted to throw men forward in an attempt to capitalise but the aggregate score will see us through, and we stick with what we’ve got.

We’re heading to Ligue 1.

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