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Franjo: A Journeyman Story (New Episode Every Week Day!)

My Name is Franjo. And I will be a Football Manager.
Started on 8 May 2017 by Wtfranjo
Latest Reply on 6 May 2018 by Wtfranjo
Showdown (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep134)

“This match,” I begin, “Is going to define our entire season.” I’m pacing back and forth at the front of the changing room, all Auxerrois eyes fixed on me. “What are we doing? Are we just enjoying our luck or are we going for promotion? For the title? Because if we’re just here for the ride and we lose to Bourg-en-Bresse today, we’ll be 6 points behind them by the time that final whistle blows.” I stop pacing and stand, arms crossed, looking and feeling more serious than I’ve been in quite a while. “But if we really want this, if we really want to play at the Parc des Princes and the Stade Louis II next season and test ourselves against the best in the country, we can. We can bloody do it by beating these and going top. We’ve got the goal difference for it, but we need to put down a marker and it needs to be now. Not next week, not next month and not in the bloody run in. Now.”

The lads seem riled after my little speech. They look ready. I'm taking a risk today in keeping the attacking variant of Project: Meatloaf that saw us beat Granville so handily in place. It could backfire, but I'm willing to take the chance. If we can put down a marker today it'll put us in great stead for the second half of the season. The team today is the exact same one that beat our reserves 5-1 last week: Lenogue in net with my settled back 4 of Samba, Captiste, Doucouré and Hikem in front of him, Sissako and Raf in midfield, with Foden, Joël and Zoun behind Hicham Aidir. To be fair, Florian Ayé is unlucky to be pushed out after his brace in the cup, but there's no doubt in my mind that Hicham's still our number 1 striker.

It takes less than 2 minutes for the first Ligue 2 goal of 2022 to be scored. Phil Foden, fresh from pulling the strings in the French Cup 9th round, chests the ball down and turns inside from the right. He slides a pass into the path of Aidir, who turns and places the ball into the far bottom corner. 2 minutes in and we're top of the bloody league. I've turned up to the showdown and drawn my gun first. And my gun's called Hicham fucking Aidir.

10 minutes later the fans leap to their feet as Aidir drives forwards on the ball. He shrugs off Girod's challenge and leaps over Kabeya's slide tackle, dribbling onto the left wing before wrapping his foot around the ball and fizzing in a cross. Foden arrives in the box and shoots - Straight against the legs of centre back Bodin, but the ball takes a deflection and bounces perfectly into the bottom corner. Foden won't get to claim the goal but frankly I don't really care. 2-0 to l'AJA.

Miraculously our recklessly attacking mentality has caught Bourg-en-Bresse off guard and they're crumbling. We win the ball straight from kick off and give it to Zoun, who flies down the left, cuts inside and shoots from 20 yards, but Fabri manages to catch it and keep the scoreline from getting embarrassing... For 10 minutes at least, because when Samba's long ball forwards is nodded on by Joël, Hicham touches the ball past Bodin masterfully, leaving him free to poke it past Fabri and into the bottom corner for 3-0.

It's clear to everyone in the stadium that Hicham smells blood in the water. Just 25 minutes in he's on a hat trick and wants to complete it, but he mishits his next effort from 20 yards, skewing it well wide. After the half hour mark though he's still trying hard to bag his 3rd. He presses poor Bodin and wins the ball before dribbling onto the left wing once more. Aidir crosses from the byline and Bodin heads clear, but the centre back's first win of the day is stripped from him as Foden's shoved to the ground by Lamanje. We have a penalty and there's no prizes for guessing who'll take it. Aidir steps up and places the ball right into the bottom left corner, sending Fabri the wrong way, completing his hat trick and putting us 4-0 up against the former league leaders.
A lesser man would probably call it there, happy with his day's work, but not the big Moroccan. When Zoun cuts in and slips a pass through to him just inside the box, he shoots with venom but can only send the Ball crashing against the post.

My half time team talk is far less prepared than my pre-match one. I wasn't really prepared for the eventuality of a 4-0 lead at the break to be honest. Nevertheless I tell the lads they're performing fantastically and not to let their levels drop.

The hour mark brings about our first black mark of the day, when Raf, already on a booking, trips Tasic and receives his marching orders. Eager not to let the match fall apart, I bring off the attack minded Foden and Joël and replace them with Ba and Fomba, who will slot into a more reserved and standard 4-4-1. We'll retain possession with our 2 banks of 4 and try to kill the match off.

For the next 20 minutes the plan works perfectly. Neither team threatens to change the scoreline until the 80th minute, when Aidir dribbles into the box from the right wing but shoots tamely into the arms of Fabri. 2 minutes later Bourg very sportingly level the playing field and get themselves reduced to 10 men when Lamanje, already on a booking, trips Fomba needlessly. The last chance of the match is ours too. It's a long Samba ball over the top that Aidir latches onto before running through on goal. This time he hits it with his laces but Fabri does well to tip it around the post. The match finishes 4-0.

The Team of the Week fittingly contains 4 Auxerre players and 0 from Bourg-en-Bresse. Issa Samba, Captiste, Phil Foden and Hicham Aidir all make the cut for their contributions to an excellent football match.

I'm still in a fair amount of shock when Ruben Aguilar comes to me saying that he's no longer willing to wait for Issa's form to drop off before he gets his place in the starting lineup back. I don't really blame him as Issa's showing no signs of slowing down, but luckily Captiste is on hand to talk Ruben down. He's very much an unsung hero of our rise to the top this season, Captiste, but he's a fantastic captain.

With Auxerre and Bourg now level on points, we begin the battle to outdo each other in an attempt to get a bit of a cushion at the top. Our next match is away at Stade de Reims, who are not a side to be taken lightly, while Bourg take on ESTAC Troyes. Stade de Reims share a fantastic defensive record with us with both teams having only conceded 15 goals so far in Ligue 2. We're second only to Red Star, who've let in 13. We do have a better attacking record than our opponents and indeed the entire league though as we lead the scoring charts with 34 goals scored, but Stade de Reims are only 5 goals and 4 points behind us.

Raf won't make the team today as he's suspended for that red card. Sissako's out too after reaching 3 yellow cards in his last 10 games, so we're without our first choice midfield. That, combined with the fact that Reims have won every home match since August has me slightly concerned. We'll ditch the attacking Project: Meatloaf and opt instead for a counter attacking Project: Meatloaf Mk II, with the incoming holding man Loïc Goujon adding extra protection while we focus our play up the wings. Lamine Fomba comes in alongside Joël in the middle.

With both teams starting off with variations on 4-1-4-1, the match is predictably slow to get going. We do have a decent chance when Zoun runs the ball into the opposition half 4 minutes in and finds Aidir, but after running for the box and shooting with his weaker foot, our striker can only watch as the ball flies wide.

With half time just a couple of minutes away we give away a free kick 25 yards from goal. Gustavo Hebling steps up for the hosts and fires an absolute rocket towards the top corner. Luckily the ball smacks off the bar and Aidir manages to hoof it clear before Mafuala is able to take advantage of the now open goal.

Neither side changes at half time. The first half was very evenly balanced and I don't want to rock the boat. I can only imagine my opposite number is thinking the same. A couple of minutes after the restart we go agonisingly close when Zoun, who's looked impressive in his new role on the left so far, cuts inside and shoots from the edge of the box, but can only hit the post.

With 20 minutes to go a Lopez corner is cushioned down by Weber and headed at goal by Iloki on the penalty spot, but Lenogue saves well. We're down the other end 10 minutes later with Zoun again, but this time when he cuts in and shoots from 20 yards he sends the ball skimming just wide of the far post. I go the whole match without making a single tactical change and the boat stays un-rocked. 0-0 it ends.

Not that surprising when you think about it, is it? A 0-0 played out between the teams with the joint second best defences in the league. I'll certainly take it though. Stade de Reims, as I said before, are not to be taken lightly. They've been in Ligue 1 for the last 4 years and have some quality players. Going back to good defences actually, Xavier Lenogue, last season's back up goalie, is on 12 clean sheets for the season. That's just 1 behind Zacharie Boucher's record set in 2017/18. Good lad, Xavier. Although that defence does it's part too. My back 5 pretty much picks itself nowadays, they're all so solid.

Annoyingly though, our title rivals did win today and so they retake the top spot. This isn't over though. There's plenty of football yet to be played and if last week's any indicator, we'll be playing far better football than fucking Bourg-en-Bresse.

Godspeed, Godspower (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep135)

As deadline day approaches I'm not stressing or fretting about deals still to be finished like some of the other managers in the league. I've had a quiet window. Well a silent one really. I don't think we need bolstering at the minute though, if anything we're still a little bit flabby. We've got good cover in every single area of the pitch, except arguably at left back, but I'm not especially worries about that. More on that in a second though because I do allow some outgoings in the final days of January. Georges Bailly and Tristan Dubois both head out on loan to JA Drancy and Le Mont LS, while I turn down an approach from Southampton for young defender Nicholas Charlet. They initially come in with the insultingly low ball figure of £150k and after some really frustrating negotiations they still don't come close to his £500k asking price.

We're making the trip to USBCO in the league before the window slams shut though. They're having a tough old time of it so far this season and are currently propping up the league, while we're 2 points behind the league leaders Bourg-en-Bresse. You'd think because we've recently comfortably beaten the latter that a victory over the former should be a breeze, but doesn't it seem so entirely football that we should lose this one, lulled into a false sense of security after our recent form?

Hopefully not though. I mentioned before that we're light at left back and we're certainly going to see if I should have signed back up today because Faouzi Hikem's suspended after reaching 3 yellow cards in his last 10 matches. I've got faith in Ruben Aguilar though, our backup right back who's currently unhappy with his lack of playing time. He did a job at left wing back against Zlatan's Valenciennes, even scoring the winning goal, so I reckon he'll do a job today. Abdoulaye Sissako also comes back into midfield after his suspension at the expense of Lamine Fomba, who's still not showing me what he can really do. We're also going back to our attacking Project: Meatloaf system which may be tempting fate, but on the other hand... Come on, they're bottom of the bloody league. We're going to play wider than usual, we'll press them hard and get our attackers running at the defence. I want us to tear these apart, ideally.

It seems I needn't have worried too much. 11 minutes in a USBCO throw next to their own penalty area is fumbled by David Charles and Zoun heads it straight into the box for Aidir. Obviously he thumps it past Thuram-Ulien. It's 1-0 but we can't afford to relax. 2 minutes later we can though when Foden receives the ball 20 yards out, draws the centre backs out of position and slips the ball casually through for Aidir, who takes a touch and places it firmly past the keeper for 2-0.

By the 26th minute it's 3-0, this time from a Foden corner that's flicked on by Doucouré and volleyed by Captiste straight into the crowd of bodies in the box. A quick game of pinball ensues and ends when Sissako stabs the ball home from 6 yards out. A couple more minutes pass and we have the chance to extend our lead further, but when Aidir gets in behind the defence courtesy of a good long ball from Loïc Goujon, his shot is turned behind brilliantly by Thuram-Ulien.

It almost slips my mind, such is the action at the opposite end, that our young loanee Brahim Ferhat is on USBCO's left wing. He makes me sit up and pay attention with about 10 minutes to go before the break though when he bursts down the flank, leaving Issa Samba for dead. He approaches the byline and whips the ball back to the edge of our bo, where Loquet arrives to place it beautifully, first time into the bottom corner. I allow myself a wry smile. We're in such good form that it makes sense. The first goal we've conceded in 2022 is created by one of our own.
Half time passes and I bring off Joël at the hour mark. He's been OK today but he's struggled to make a real impact, finding himself isolated between USBCO's 2 holding men. Lamine Fomba comes on and I want him to throw his weight around a bit up there as more of a destroyer. Just seconds later we grab ourselves another goal. It's not Fomba, although I would have been extremely smug if it was. No, Ruben Aguilar, solid again at left back so far, whips a cross in towards the far post from deep on the left. It's a flat, angled cross and it's easy for Foden to anticipate. Phil arrives to tap the ball home from close range for 4-1. A few minutes later Fomba takes a potshot from 30 yards but it drifts harmlessly wide. I choose to ignore it.

Still not content for some reason, I bring Adama Ba on for Zoun on the left with 20 minutes to go. He does nearly make an immediate impact, receiving a brilliant chipped pass from Fomba and crossing from the byline, but Aidir's heavily outnumbered in the box and the ball's headed clear. Lamine cushions it down for Ba though who volleys it first time - Against the far post. Unlucky.

With the game dead we drift into injury time. I don't know if complacency drifts into our ranks but in the 91st minute the hosts' goalscorer Arnaud Loquet crosses from deep on the right and who else but Brahim Ferhat pops up to poke the ball in at the far post. I give Brahim a subtle thumbs up as he runs past and he grins back at me. He's not been prolific this season and that's only his 3rd goal in 25 games, but he's certainly impressed me today.

We've not lost in 5 league matches now, including 3 wins and a goal difference of +7. It's extremely promising form but annoyingly it's not enough to take the top spot back from Bourg. I wish they'd just stop bloody winning.

Anyway, deadline day is here and we've already lost our first player of the day. Phil Foden... Has a cold and won't be fit for arguably the highest profile match of my career against Bordeaux tomorrow. Come on, Phil.

We have actually lost our first player of the day though. Nicholas Charlet is going to Southampton after all after they come back in with a £750k bid with future incentives for the 15 year old. He can't move until the Summer when he's 16 but it's all agreed. To be fair, it's a big move for the lad and I hope he makes the most of it.

Godspower Tower's leaving too, as much as it pains me to lose a player with such a fantastic name. He's joining Diósgyör in Turkey for £500k, where hopefully he'll get a bit more football. Godspeed, Godspower.

And finally Crouchie lets me know that young midfielder Paul Lefevre is off to Fethiyespor on loan, again with first team football in mind to aid his development. I'll keep a close eye on him. Well, Crouchie will, when he isn't watching Isaac Sohna.

And with that the deadline slams shut. I'm glad of it to be honest. The window's nothing but an annoyance if you're not planning on buying anyone and I've mainly been ignoring it over the last few days, because I've been focussing on this: Our French Cup 10th Round match away at Girondins de Bourdeaux.

Only a madman would attack such a big team away from home, so I'm reverting once again to our counter attacking Project:Meatloaf Mk II. Foden's out with his... Cold... And Samba's suspended for (All together now) picking up 3 yellow cards in his last 10 matches. I'm never going to play a full strength side again, am I? But luckily Hikem's back from his suspension so he comes in at left back, while Aguilar finally gets to play in his favoured position of right back. Adama Ba will cut in from the left after briefly impressing against USBCO, while Zoun moves over to the right wing. Let's see if we're ready to take on a Ligue 1 club.

We threaten early on when Zoun leads a counter attack, darting with the ball through the centre of the pitch. He shoots from the edge of the area and sends it over the bar, but he gets an ovation from the travelling support even so. Our fans fall silent a minute later though when Bordeaux do some breaking of their own. Andersen feeds the ball through for young striker Gnago, who slams his shot against the near post. It's a close call.

A few minutes later they're starting to pen us into our own box. This time the ball's on the right with Vida, who gets a cross in from the byline straight onto the head of Lo Faso at the far post. He powers a header - Against the angle from close range. Bloody hell. For a moment I get flashbacks to a certain bombardment in Stockholm, but our luck doesn't last like it did that day. In the 17th minute Coco slides the ball across the edge of our box and Gnago turns the ball in under Lenogue at his near post.

The next 8 minutes are a painful watch. We stay under the cosh and concede not once, but twice more before the 25 minute mark. First through Andersen, who dribbles forwards and powers it in from the edge of the box, and then through Gnago again, who receives the ball from Acosta and beats Lenogue at his near post. Again.

And that's how my first half of competitive football against a Ligue 1 club ends. 0-3 and utterly, thoroughly outclassed. Seeing as we're pretty much out of the cup at this point anyway though, I choose to see this as an opportunity. How does our attacking Project: Meatloaf hold up against a much better side? I bring off Ba and replace him with a sniffling Phil Foden, who swaps with Zoun and moves onto the right. If we're going to lose I'd like us to at least play some decent football and in the last few games we've played some brilliant stuff.

It bloody works within 2 minutes. First Zoun cuts in from the left and shoots, forcing a good save from Dimitrievski, and from the resulting corner Foden swings the ball right onto the penalty spot, where Sissako's waiting to lash it home on the volley. Unfortunately though, Bordeaux take control back after that, perhaps realising that they let their guard down after the break. With half an hour to go we go 4-2-4, with Florian Ayé replacing Joël and joining Hicham up front and the 2 wide men swapping wings so that they can stay wide and float some crosses in on their favoured feet. A few minutes later we get at them again. This time a long ball from Hikem is brought down by Ayé and slipped through the defence for the onrushing Foden. He pokes the ball at goal but Dimitrievski saves well.

With 20 minutes to go we're back against the wall though. Gnago goes close to completing his hat trick but is denied by a parried save by Lenogue, and then a close range free kick is bent just over the bar by Lo Faso. 10 minutes later that nuisance Gnago goes close again, receiving another great Acosta through ball and shooting just wide of the near post, but a few minutes later it's Acosta himself that bags the final goal, firing past Lenogue from 20 yards after a good Bordeaux break. We go close with a couple of minutes to play when Foden's corner is cushioned down by Hikem and volleyed goalwards by Captiste. The ball crashes against the underside of the bar but stays out. In all fairness, the better side has won.

It's quite troubling, really. I'm aiming for promotion here and although Bordeaux are admittedly a good Ligue 1 team and not one of the strugglers, we were so thoroughly outplayed today that it really makes me wonder whether this team would cut it in the top flight. Or maybe it's my system? Either way, if we hit our target this year I'm going to have to give this a lot of thought.

Phil-led With Pride (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep136)

Do you know what I'm most proud of about this season? Because it's not our undeniable overachievement in the League and it's not our almost unparalleled defensive and offensive goal records either. It's Phil bloody Foden. It genuinely could've gone either way when I brought him in and I'd never spent as much as £500k on a player before, which would've made signing him a big mistake on my part if things hadn't gone to plan. Before this season he'd barely played competitive football in his career, instead being a stalwart for Man City's youth teams as a sort of luxury number 10. He's really started to shine in Ligue 2 though and that's why I'm so proud. In fact he's already on 9 assists for the season and will almost certainly break Jérôme Mombris' club record of 12 from the 2018/19 season before the final game. His impact has been especially noticeable in our few games since the winter break, not because of his goal and 3 assists in those 4 matches, but because of his obvious growing intelligence as a right sided inside forward. As I heard one pundit* astutely observe recently, "How satisfying is it seeing him utterly nailing the inside forward role to perfection, especially after his early struggles? On the ball, he's cutting inside and dragging defenders with him before slipping clever reverses through to Aidir. Off the ball, he's making darting far-post runs and getting tap-ins. Lovely stuff." Good lad, Phil.

Today we host ESTAC Troyes, which I've really been looking forward to. After our recent humbling defeat in Bordeaux this really is the ideal match in which to bounce back. We've got a fantastic record against ESTAC Troyes in our previous 3 encounters under my stewardship, winning on all 3 occasions. Let's hope we can make it 4 out of 4.

Today though I've got a bit of a headache because I'm not quite sure how to line up against them. I attribute a lot of our success this season to the fact that in pretty much every match I've set up primarily to nullify the opposition, whether that means playing 3 at the back and man marking their front 2, playing a narrow formation to strangle the opposition's central players, etc. But I'm not sure how Troyes will line up. They've been a bit all over the place recently, having used a 4-2-3-1, a different 4-2-3-1 with deeper central midfielders, a 4-1-2-3 and a flat 4-3-3. In the end though I remember the words that dear old Ms Alexandersson bestowed upon me: "Don't overthink it." Why should I try to nullify Troyes? We're going with our new and improved attacking variant of Project: Meatloaf and they can have a good hard think about how they're going to deal with us. I'm making a couple of changes from the team that lost in the cup: Aguilar and Goujon are both suspended but conveniently Samba and Raf are back from their suspensions, so they come back in at right back and centre midfield respectively. Phil Foden's shaken off the sniffles so he comes back in for Adama Ba on the right, with Zoun swapping back to the left where he's recently impressed.

The first half is a quite horrible experience. Troyes do set up in a 4-2-3-1 with deep midfielders which I don't mind, but what really ruins my plan is the weather. It's a bitterly cold day with sleet pelting the pitch. The surface is slippery and not ideal for dribbling or playing the ball on the deck, which is what we're trying to do. We do get a chance with about 5 minutes to go before the break when Sissako passes to Foden on the edge of the box though. Phil turns onto his left foot and rifles a low shot towards the far corner, but the ball cannons back off the post, rolls across the line and is cleared before Aidir can knock in the rebound.

At half time I decide that we need to go more direct because of the conditions. Aidir will play as more of a target man and we'll knock the ball up to him quicker. With half an hour to go though the scores are still level. Joël makes way as we're bypassing him anyway and Florian Ayé comes on as a second target man in a 4-2-4 formation. Foden and Zoun swap flanks and will try to get more crosses in to the big lads as out and out wingers.

Not even 2 minutes after Ayé's introduction, Foden stands over a free kick 25 yards out on the right. He chips a cross in towards the penalty spot towards Ayé, but Samuel Grandsir leaps in and clears the ball. All of a sudden the referee blows his whistle and points to the spot. Penalty! The ref judges Grandsir to have raised his foot too high, but I have to say I'm really surprised he's given us that. The winger's boot was nowhere near high enough to be a danger to Ayé. He's 5'6" for fucks sake, he's surely physically incapable of kicking anyone in the face. I won't look a gift horse in the mouth though and with Troyes' manager Oscar Ewolo still fuming nearby, Ayé steps up himself and buries the ball into the bottom corner from 12 yards.

10 minutes later I bring on Adama Ba for Zoun on the right wing and within minutes he nearly makes just as much of an impact. Another Foden free kick, this time out on the right wing, is flicked on by Sissako and headed by Ba at the far post, but he hits the post. With 5 minutes to go we look to control the game and hopefully kill it off. There are a couple of late chances though, firstly in the 91st minute when Hubert tests Lenogue from 20 yards and forces a decent save, then a minute later MBuemo fizzes a shot across the face of goal. Lenogue doesn't even move and looks even more relieved than I feel when the ball goes just wide of the far post. I'll take the 1-0 win, even if it doesn't feel all that deserved.

With that result in the bag though we're unbeaten in 6 league games, which is a great feeling. Xavier Lenogue will be feeling the best of us all as that result takes him to 14 clean sheets; A new club record. 13 of those have been in the league too and he's closing in on the Ligue 2 record of 15 in a season, which was set by Darko Dejanovic of FC Metz last season.

The week that follows is full of club news: Firstly Jérôme Mombris is hanging up his boots in the summer. It's a wise decision in my opinion. He was obviously a very good full back in his pomp but his 30's have taken away any pace that he might have once had. In my opinion though he's still got a bright future, possibly as a coach, assistant or even a Manager. I may even see if he wants to stay on at the club in some capacity in the Summer.

A few days later I find out that a takeover may be on the cards too, which is always exciting, if a bit disruptive. The club's Chinese owner Zhou James is looking to step down and there's rumblings of some local investment. Watch this space, I suppose.

Our next match, which marks Abdoulaye Sissako's 100th for the club, takes us to Nîmes Olympique for another reunion with Isaac Sohna and his temporary teammates. Nîmes are sitting comfortably in mid table but after our 3-0 win in the reverse fixture I'll be looking for another comfortable victory today.

We're almost unchanged today, with the exception of Captiste, who's suspended and replaced by Mike Kakuba. Mike's been very patient this season, watching on from the sidelines as I build a solid defence without him. It hasn't really helped him that although our full backs and central midfielders need shuffling literally every match because of these silly suspensions, our centre back pairing has kept their powder pretty much dry until this point. Captiste's absence doesn't just have big consequences for Mike though, because as our captain sits in the stands we need somebody else to turn to for leadership. Hicham Aidir, Auxerre vice captain, takes the armband for the first time.

The first real chance of the match falls nearly 20 minutes in after our corner's cleared by the Nîmes defence. Samba plays the ball to Raf, who passes short to Zoun, cutting in from the left as usual. As the hosts hesitate to close him down, the Burkinabe winger has time to take aim and fire - into the far corner of the net. It's a great start and an even better finish.

The home side might peg us back 10 minutes later, but when Buzaglo sends a 35 yard free kick soaring into the box, Doucouré clears it firmly. Raf receives the ball and looks up to see Phil Foden tearing into space on the left wing and picks him out with a superb long ball. Foden pulls it back to Zoun, who tees up Sissako, and the 100 match graduate drills the ball home to put us 2-0 up.

That'd be enough for me in an extremely dominant first half, but we don't relent. 5 minutes later Foden floats a free kick into the Nîmes 6 yard box and the keeper comes out and misses the ball. His defender bails him out by heading it clear, but only as far as Joël, who nods it down so that Zoun can smash the ball into the empty net. We head in for the break with a deserved 3 goal lead.

As we approach the hour mark the cherry is well and truly placed on top when a quick passing move culminates with Joël teeing up Sissako on the edge of the box before the man of the day fires in our 4th and becomes the 2nd player to bag a brace. Satisfied with a job well done, I replace our booked pair Hikem and Raf with Goujon and Fomba and we see out the game without a problem.

I obviously single out Sissako, Joël and Zoun for praise after the final whistle, but this has been an excellent team performance. I suppose the downside of our aggregate 7-0 win over Nîmes this season is that Isaac Sohna has really failed to impress me, which is worrying. He is definitely improving but if all goes well we'll be in Ligue 1 next season and if he can't cut it at this level... We'll deal with that in the Summer. All that matters today is the 3 points, which combined with Bourg-en-Bresse 's 1-1 draw against Ajaccio leaves us sitting atop the league. We just need to try and stay here this time. Come at me, Bourg.

*Top analysis @Sammuthegreat on fm-base. Cheers mate!

Going Swimmingly (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep137)

At the risk of tempting fate, everything's going fucking swimmingly for AJ Auxerre at the moment. We're top of the league, unbeaten in 7, starting to sweep lesser teams aside, Xavier Lenogue's a single clean sheet away from equalling a league record and now we're apparently the subject of a takeover, courtesy of a mysterious "Former footballer".

The owner Mr James and Chairman Mr Chabod are very much keeping me in the dark with regards to the identity of the potential buyers, so I've been spending my downtime speculating about this mysterious consortium. My leading theory so far is that Auxerre favourite Eric Cantona, together with his contacts at Stella Artois, the second shittest lager on the market, is coming back to his old club to lead us into a glorious new era.

We've got several players in the Domino's Ligue 2 Team of the Week again, including 3 of our starting defenders Issa Samba, Mamadou Doucouré and Mike Kakuba, along with Abdoulaye Sissako, Joël Soumahoro and Zoun. The 4-0 win over Nîmes really was a walk-over and it's great to see so many of the lads get recognition for their performances.

Corentin Tirard's ruled himself out for a couple of weeks with a groin strain, but I think at this point I've made my indifference towards him perfectly clear, so I'm not counting his being crocked as a grey cloud in Auxerre's perfect blue February sky.

We're taking on 18th placed US Créteil-Lusitanos today at the Stade de l'Abbé-Deschamps. It's a match that the visitors won't have been looking forward to at all but it's one that I'm eagerly anticipating. To be fair I'm excited for every match at the minute because I get to watch this Auxerre side's scintillating football.

Créteil shouldn't pose a major problem today so I'm sticking with our all out attacking Project: Meatloaf. Mike Kakuba's giving me a bit of a headache at the minute as he barely put a foot wrong in the absence of Captiste last week and I'm struggling to think of a reason to recall my captain to the side. It's a great headache to have though. I am making one change for today's match however and that's Hicham Aidir, who I'm resting in favour of Florian Ayé. Hicham was quiet in the Nîmes game but I'm not dropping him for that. I just want to give Florian a run out and I reckon we can take care of Créteil without our talismanic Moroccan. The absences of Captiste and Hicham mean that Issa Samba gets the armband. The full back's stood in before and I trust him to do a job as our skipper.

The first half an hour is slow on the pitch but is by no means quiet in the stadium. The home fans are in fine voice, buoyed by the team's recent form. Belief and expectations are high and rightly so. After 20 minutes I tell the team to try to exploit the flanks as we're finding it tricky to break down the Créteil defence. They've started with 2 holding men in front of the back 4 and a midfielder in front of them, so the centre of the pitch is very congested. The change pays dividends quickly when in the 32nd minute Joël passes the ball short to Zoun 20 yards out, who turns and blasts it over the keeper, against the underside of the crossbar and in. Take a bloody bow mate.

I want to press our advantage. The goal means that the visitors need to come out of their half and actually try to score so we'll play with more width, we'll roam from our positions and we'll play some expressive football like the Project: Meatloaf of old. If they try to get at us I want us popping up in the gaps and pulling their defence apart. We don't manage another first half goal but on the hour we double our advantage. After setting up the opener Joël tries to bag himself a goal and shoots from 20 yards, but his shot's immediately blocked. The ball only rolls away a few yards as far as Raf though and he puts his laces through it, nearly bursting the net with a fantastic effort. We'll need to make a DVD of this game or something because these goals have been excellent.

In an effort to give us even more width, Foden and Zoun swap flanks and will play as out and out wingers, staying wide to stretch the defence even more than our overlapping full backs have been doing so far. With 20 minutes to play though Créteil win a corner. Berthier whips it into the box and although he rises well, Kakuba can only flick the ball on towards the far post with his head. Niakaté gets there quickest and heads towards goal, bringing a good save from Lenogue, but he can't keep hold of the ball and drops it at the feet of Jimenez. The Créteil man shoots desperately from a narrow angle but captain Issa Samba dives in to knock it behind for another corner.

About 10 minutes later I make a rare triple substitution, giving Aidir, Ba and Fomba chances to impress me. Ayé, Foden and Raf make way. With 5 minutes to go Hikem brings the ball forwards and gets a cross in from the left wing. Leca clears the ball but not far enough and it falls for Abdoulaye Sissako, who thumps a Di-Canio-esque volley towards goal from the edge of the area but can only watch it crash against the far post. Zoun's beaten to the rebound and the ball's cleared. I feel somewhat for Abdoulaye, who very nearly took his recent tally to 5 goals in 5 games, which would've been pretty astonishing for a midfielder whose skillset is primarily based around defence.

We do manage to put the cherry on top though. Just a couple of minutes after Sissako hits the post, Aidir holds the ball up and tries to slip Ba in behind the defence on the left. He's thwarted by an absolutely superb slide tackle by Bangoura, but the ball only rolls back to Aidir, whose shot deflects in off Boyer. They all count, Hicham. Another extremely pleasing 90 minutes ends 3-0.

Oh for fucks sake, can somebody ask Ruben Aguilar to stop ruining my excellent mood? As Captiste and I have explained to him many times, there's no way I'm dropping Issa Samba or Faouzi Hikem unless their form drops. Or they get suspended. Which they almost certainly will do sooner or later actually, so I don't know what he keeps whinging about. Luckily, we all know how this goes: Aguilar kicks off, Captiste steps in, puts an arm round the full back and makes him see sense. God, I love Captiste.

Just the 3 players in the Team of the Week this time, too. If I didn't have such a naturally sunny disposition I'd be starting to feel a bit crestfallen. Mike Kakuba, Raf and Joël are our trio, although I reckon Zoun's unlucky to be left out. I'd stick him in there for that goal alone.

Now don't get me wrong, as Matthew Wilder once said: "Ain't nothin' gonna break my stride", but do you remember Alessandro Bassani, the promising young winger that I was planning on blooding into the squad this season but who broke his ankle early on? Well he's back! And he's picked up a bloody sports hernia, ruling him out for another 4-5 weeks. It really is lucky that I'm so fucking chipper, isn't it?

Now here's some good news: Xavier Lenogue has levelled the Ligue 2 clean sheet record of 15, meaning another in our next match will set a new league record. Good lad.

Speaking of our next game, we'll be playing AC Ajaccio away from home today and they're another club that are struggling to beat the drop at the minute. I'll not show any mercy though. Bourg-en-Bresse have latched right onto us at the top of Ligue 2 and just won't piss off, staying level with us on 55 points but behind because of their inferior goal difference, and I want us to keep winning until we shake them off. Incidentally though, a 7 point gap's opened up between the two of us and Stade de Reims in 3rd, which is extremely promising in terms of our promotion bid.

The only change I'll make today is bringing Hicham Aidir back in. I was hoping that Ayé would put in a performance to give me something to think about against Créteils-Lusitanos, but he went missing an awful lot and will have to wait for another chance. Benjamin Valette, the youngster who was sold to Marseille in the Summer and loaned out to Ajaccio, starts against us for the second time.

This is all becoming too easy. It only takes 20 minutes for Joël, who's now officially in superb form, to pass short to Aidir on the edge of the box and for our captain to stroke the ball firmly past the lesser Mandanda to give us the lead. It's another dominant half of football and we nearly go 2-0 up in first half injury time when Sissako picks out Samba charging up the wing on the overlap. Samba chests it down and lays it off for Foden, who plays it on to Aidir and he shoots on the turn, but can only scuff the ball wide of the near post.

I keep it simple at half time and send the lads back out with smiles on their faces. Smiles that are wiped away only 5 minutes after the restart, when Vincent scoops a beautiful pass over the top of our defence for Vasseur, who cuts in from the left, controls the ball with his first touch and half volleys it into the far corner of our net with his second. Huh. Still confident in our ability to retake the lead though I sacrifice the more defensive Raf and Zoun, who's had a quiet game, for Fomba and Ba 5 minutes later. Less than a minute after the duo come on, a Vincent cross is floated towards our far post from the right byline and Mike Kakuba brings down the goalscorer Vasseur in the box. Huh. The referee points to the spot and awards a penalty to AC Ajaccio, which Legchilin converts, sending Lenogue the wrong way... Huh.

We're behind. We're losing. To a bunch of bloody relegation strugglers. I honestly don't know if I'm shocked or furious. Maybe I'm both. But it's lucky I'm still in such a good mo... 10 minutes after Ajaccio's 2nd goal, Phil Foden takes an elbow to the chest jumping for a header and has to go off. Huh. Yeah I'm fucking furious. Everything that could have gone wrong in this second half has so far gone wrong. I throw Florian Ayé onto the right as a makeshift wide target man but I'm beginning to lose hope.

It's not until injury time at the end of the game that we start to show signs of fighting back. In the 91st minute Adama Ba tries his luck from 25 yards but Mandanda catches the shot easily. 2 minutes later we're really pushing though and Aidir's holding the ball up 25 yards out. After that it all happens in slow motion: A centre back is drawn out of position... There's a gaping hole in the Ajaccio back line... Lamine Fomba charges into the space and receives the ball from Hicham... He's got all the space in the World... And he spoons it wide from 6 yards out with his weaker foot. I think we're done for today.

Now let's be rational about this because I want to know if I'm going over the top here. Am I annoyed that we've lost against a side that we were heavy favourites to beat? Sure. Am I frustrated that we allowed both of their 2 second half shots to find the back of the net? Yes. Am I vexed that we were unable to add to our only goal or record more shots on target ourselves? Definitely. Am I angry that Bourg-en-Bresse also lost today and a win would've lifted us 3 points clear at the top for the first time this season? Take a fucking guess.

In fact, no. Do you know what? Yes I'm angry with how this game's unfolded. Fuck Ajaccio, fuck their 2 shots, fuck Bourg-en-Brease, fuck Mike Kakuba and fuck the brute that jabbed poor Phil Foden in the chest.

Tribune Leclerc - Part 3 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 137.5)

I'm sitting in the Tribune Leclerc stand in Stade Abbé-Deschamps. Right at the back of the balcony against the back wall. I’ve spent the past 2 months coming here every night while I sleep and do you know what the worst part of this place is? The silence. When I first came up here in a dream the silence was calm and peaceful. Now it’s a lonely, claustrophobic silence that makes me very aware of the lack of any noise around me. I'm also well aware at the minute that I may have overreacted in the wake of our defeat to AC Ajaccio earlier today. I don't know what it was, just a bit of red mist I suppose. I'm still reeling a bit from the events of the last couple of months off the field. I miss Meatloaf and I miss Burnie. I miss the shit out of them.

They were the yin and yang, the polar opposites that inspired me when I needed inspiration the most. Burnie, who inspired a good few counter attacking strategies thanks to his ability to absorb all the shit his brother gave him, waiting for his moment before striking back. And Meatloaf, who despite his arseholeishness against his brother inspired me to be the aggressor. To dominate. They both inspired me to scrap and to fight back in different ways and they were my muses.

A footstep cuts through the silence. Comparatively the noise is as intrusive as the ringing of a bell tower just a few feet to my left. The silence is broken just for a moment but then absorbs the noise back into itself. I look down the aisle for the source of the noise and what I see makes my jaw drop. Standing beside me in a homemade black and red knitted jumper is a sweet looking old lady with long grey/blonde hair, smiling kindly and watching me through the thickest pair of glasses I’ve ever seen. Standing beside me is Ms Alexandersson.

“Hello dear”, she says quietly, taking the adjacent seat where Meatloaf used to sit. As she does, she produces a pair of knitting needles and a couple of balls of different coloured wool and begins to knit. The click-clack of the needles breaks the silence once more.

“Hello...” I try to keep talking but I can’t think of a single thing to say. She nods slowly as if she understands.

“You shouldn’t come here any more, dear. You know that.”

“I...” ...Still can’t think of anything to say. After another pause I manage: “Meatloaf... Burnie...”

“Are both gone.” She cuts me off, abruptly but with no sense of malice in her voice. “You know that too.” We sit through another long pause, punctuated only by the click-clack of her knitting needles before she continues. “Look where we are. Look at this stadium.”

I look around feeling quite foolish, scanning the ground for anything that she might be referring to. “I... I don’t...”

“Stade Abbé-Deschamps”, she recites in a grand voice, as if she was introducing a world class boxer. “When I met you I wouldn’t have trusted you to manage a direct debit, never mind a team that plays in a place like this.” I chuckle and Ms Alexandersson continues to smile sweetly back at me. It’s a fair point. “It was never going to be plain sailing all the way to the top though, you’ve always known that.” She continues, “Whether it’s relegation from the Swedish First Division South, Losing 0-4 in the South African Knockout Cup Final, that horrible winless streak in the Lotto Ekstraklasa that went on and on...”

“Did you have a point?” I laugh weerily. She smiles again.

“Or losing Meatloaf and Burnie.” She concludes softly. “It’s just another obstacle on a long, long journey.” She pauses again. Click-clack, click-clack. “Somehow you’ve fumbled your way up to Ligue 2, but there’s still a long way to go.”

I chuckle again. “There is.” I agree.

“So don’t come back here again dear. Please.” She says. I look up at her to see that her smile has faded for the first time. Instead she looks genuinely concerned. The click-clack of her needles has stopped. I allow my smile to fade too.

“I won’t.”

“Good.” She smiles once again. “Onwards and upwards.” She takes my hand and pushes something into it. Something woollen. And the next thing I know, she’s gone. The seat that she had occupied slams shut due to her sudden absence. I open my hand up to reveal what Ms Alexandersson’s given me: A yellow dog, flecked with brown with large dark eyes and a pink tongue sticking out of his mouth. It’s clearly meant to be a big dog, like a labrador or a golden retriever.

I place the knitted dog in my left trouser pocket and stand, surveying the darkened stadium. This isn’t supposed to be a dark, lonely place. This is the home of Association de la Jeunesse Auxerroise. This is supposed to be the stage for my greatest success to date. It’s time to wake up and make it happen.

A New Hope (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep138)

So yes, fine. I threw a bit of a wobbler last week against Ajaccio, I'll admit that. I lost my head. We weren't good enough on the day, we didn't come close to the high standards that I've come to expect from AJ Auxerre and I was fuming. But that's football isn't it? The sport where Portugal and Greece can win the Euros, Chelsea can lose to Bradford and Ian Holloway can take Blackpool FC into the Premier League without a bloody washing machine at the club for the players' kits, all the while making comparisons to pulling at the end of a night out. The mad bastard. Football can be unpredictable and emotions often run high. So fuck it, live and learn. I'm also being advised to "congratulate" Ajaccio on their victory, so... Yeah, well fucking done.

Seriously though, sincere congratulations to Ajaccio for crocking my revelation of an inside forward. Phil Foden took a whack during the match and came away with broken ribs, so he'll miss about a month of football. That to me is the equivalent of a jealous older sibling seeing that their younger sibling has a better set of toys than they do and lashing out by... Oh I don't know... Elbowing them right in the abdomen like some kind of shit eating, brain dead troglodyte.

Anyway with my sincere and heartfelt apologies out of the way, let's move onto some better news, shall we? Hicham Aidir always lifts spirits so let's start with the fact that he's only gone and set his 2nd club goals record in as many seasons at as many clubs. Bloody hell, he never ceases to amaze me. He's on 19 for the season so far with 14 matches still to play, which already eclipses our own Florian Ayé's tally of 18 set in the 2017/18 season. You'd better up your game, Florian.

For a change though it's not Hicham that's catching the eye the most, it's our in-form pair Zoun and Abdoulaye Sissako, who are voted 2nd and 3rd respectively in the Ligue 2 Player of the Month competition. They've been excellent since the break. Zoun in particular has really impressed me, taking to his new role on the left like a duck to water.
In more brilliant news it's time for our annual intake of academy graduates. I always like to pay close attention to the new generation and being at a club with such a great reputation for bringing players through, this year will be no different.

In no particular order let's introduce some of the most promising of the bunch. First up and hailing from The Woodlands in Texas, USA, is right winger Patrick Granger, brought through our ranks thanks to our ongoing affiliation with Texas Rush. He's one that I'm going to keep an eye on despite his lack of ambition because he's a quick, aggressive team player who knows how to score from range and with a better attitude and improvements in certain areas, he could be decent.

Then there's 14 year old Sylvain Laurent from Belfort, a couple of cities East of us. He's a definite prospect and puts me in mind of Juno from Santos; A brave, hard working and tough-tackling defensive midfielder who's also full of tricks on the ball and has a free kick up his sleeve to boot. He's got an interesting combination of skills that could well prove be useful.

Mathis Roux is another 14 year old home grown talent, hailing from Orléans. He's definitely in my preferred mould; high level of fitness, very determined, good decision maker and team player and able technically too. He likes to play in central midfield but could become a good number 10 too. He thinks he can also play as a striker but I respectfully disagree as he's even worse at shooting than I was in my day.

And finally, Brazilian-born/French-raised Celsiney Andre, or "Celsiney" as he's already dubbed himself. The thought crosses my mind that if 15 year olds are already working on 'Branding' then humanity has officially failed, but hey ho. Celsiney Andre is an extremely determined right full back, which puts him back on my radar. He's also terrifically brave and pretty quick too, so I look forward to seeing to what extent he can improve his god awful technical skills.

I've (finally) learned my lesson from previous seasons and refrained from offering pre-contracts to those lads until after they've played for the grads against our U19's, as in previous years they've gone straight into the latter team and haven't played in this showcase match.

Interestingly though, not all of the 4 standout kids start the match. With the grads opting for Project: Burnie Mk III, there's no wingers and so Granger has to settle for a spot on the bench. Laurent, Celsiney and Roux however all start against the U19's Project: Meatloaf, which is quickly scrapped in favour of their own Project: Burnie Mk III. A wise choice.

It's a quiet match to be honest and the grads really fight for a result, but are undone when the Under 19's sub right back Brice Traoré whips in a corner that's headed home by centre back Rui Correia. They're made to work hard for the narrow victory though and I am impressed by the noobies' performance.

When the match is over the youth contracts are handed out and pre-contracts are given to the 4 who've caught my eye. They eagerly sign.

It's time to shift focus back to the first team though because the race to break Jérôme Mombris' assist record of 12 in a season is heating up. Foden looked certain to break it first, but now that he's sitting out for the foreseeable future the door's opened up for Joël Soumahoro, who's on 10 assists. The joke's on me again as just like when I brought him to Santos, I had doubts in the summer over Joël's ability to stake a claim for a regular first team place in a Ligue 2 side. I'll gladly eat my words... Well, my thoughts, for the second season in a row though. He may not be the biggest, toughest, fastest or most skilful, but my God the young Ivorian gets results.

US Orléans are the side making the trip to Auxerre today and after the Ajaccio match I'm looking for us to bounce straight back. It's fitting that I should have just watched our young talents battle it out with Project: Meatloaf Mk III, because Orléans play with a 4-4-2 so I'm bringing it back.

We'll feel the game out with a standard mentality. I don't want us charging out too recklessly against a team with a strong attack and I don't want us to sit back too much either. In terms of personnel, Faouzi Hikem and Raf are of course suspended, so Aguilar and Goujon are in. Or they would've been but Goujon twists his knee just before the match and misses out on a rare start. Fomba starts instead, while Ayé and Captiste also make the lineup at the expense of the injured Foden and the unfortunate Zoun, who doesn't fit into this shape. Orléans play with that delightfully nostalgic big man/little man duo up front with 6'5" target man Toutain and non-6'5" all rounder Wissa. Mike Kakuba, still one of the most aerially dominant defenders I've worked with, will mark the former, while Doucouré marks the latter, both with instructions to stay tight as they should have their men for pace too. Captiste makes his reintroduction between them and will push into the hole to start moves and break up attacks. Oh, and I do apologise to Mike for what I said after the last match. And not nearly as sarcastically as I apologised to Ajaccio.

We get off to a good start, with Orléans being pretty well nullified making a good base for us to build upon. In the 17th minute we open the scoring with an absolute beauty. An Aguilar throw in on the left wing starts a rapid 6 pass move that ends with Aidir taking a touch and clipping the ball past Despirez and into the bottom corner. An excellent start marked by an excellent striker's 20th goal of the season.

We nearly double our money 15 minutes later when Joël, on corner duty after Phil was brutally savaged last match, crosses from the set piece and finds Captiste at the far post. The skipper heads the ball back across goal and Fomba gets his head to it, but can only direct it into the grateful arms of the Orléans keeper. But then just as I start to feel like we're on course for another bright, bright, sunshiney day, Sissako has to hobble off with the assistance of one of the physios. We suspect a sprained ankle. This is troubling with Raf suspended and Goujon out as I don't have any senior backup for him, but it's even more troubling because I've grown to bloody love Abdoulaye Sissako and his ridiculous levels of energy. He limps down the tunnel with a grimace and I turn to young Gaizka Basauri for his first appearance in quite a while. Even though he's quite creative I just want him picking up where Sissako left off for now as a ball winner.

Gaizka looks solid after his introduction and we continue to dominate without adding to our lead. At half time I'm careful not to seem overly happy as this is the exact situation we had at half time against Ajaccio. I don't have to worry for too long though. Just before the hour mark and after another lovely flowing move, Fomba slips Samba in behind the defence on the right, our right back squares the ball for Florian Ayé and he drills it home for 2-0.

5 minutes later the visitors react, hauling off their mountainous striker Toutain and replacing him with Morel, who is about as far in the opposite direction as you can get. He's small, low centre of gravity and fucking rapid. We ditch the tight marking and I have Basauri and Joël drop back to form a 3-3-2-2 formation with a deeper defensive line, which should hopefully clog up the channels and prevent their 2 nippy strikers from getting in behind us.

And to be fair, it works. We're unlucky not to add a 3rd 10 minutes later when Basauri's corner is headed against the post by Lamine Fomba and I even give a cameo to young Amine Chassaing, who is another youngster I'd planned on using this season. I do still think this squad's a bit flabby because I'm not giving these kids nearly as much time as I'd like to. I'll stick a pin in that thought for the summer though. We shut up shop and take our 3 points. It's a professional performance and I'm more than happy.

Ah, what a difference a week makes. Records are crumbling, another 3 points are up on the board, some of the kids are getting to play and more tiny reinforcements are scurrying up through the system. A new hope has been breathed into Auxerre and I feel like a completely new man.

But I do wish Bourg-en-Bresse would PISS. RIGHT. OFF.

Ultimatums (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep139)

Well, it’s official: Xavier Lenogue’s 16 clean sheets is a new Domino’s Ligue 2 record. FC Metz’ (Who just happen to be our next opponents) keeper Darko Dejanovic held the record for 2 years but has been surpassed by Lenogue and his band of ridiculous defenders. Joël’s nearing his record too and after setting up Aidir against Orléans he’s now just 1 behind our retiring left back Mombris’ 12 assists in a season.

So let’s talk FC Metz. They're a decent mid-table side and we thrashed them 3-0 in the reverse fixture, so today represents a chance to build up a bit of momentum. We’ll be without Abdoulaye Sissako in midfield as his injury picked up against Orléans has been confirmed as a sprained ankle and will keep him out for 4-5 weeks, which is certainly a blow, but Hikem and Raf are back in contention after completing their suspensions. Loïc Chicken Goujon’s back in full training but this match comes a little bit too soon for him, so he won’t be risked from the start.

With Metz unlikely to field a striking partnership and warrant 3 centre backs we’re reverting to our attacking Project: Meatloaf for this one. This means that one of our centre backs needs to drop to the bench and as much as it pains me, Mike Kakuba’s the one. I can’t drop Doucouré as he never seems to do anything wrong whatsoever and even though I’ve forgiven him, Kakuba did give away that penalty against Ajaccio, so Captiste is ousting him. Faouzi Hikem, Raf, Zoun and (Brace yourselves) Corentin Tirard return to the first team on place of Ruben Aguilar, Abdoulaye Sissako and Florian Ayé. This is Corentin’s very last chance to impress and he gets the nod today purely because I’d like a left footer to replace Foden on the right, but if he’s as lacklustre as he has been in previous games he’s played for me, he's done at Auxerre. It’s also worth mentioning that even though Lamine Fomba keeps his place today I’m really starting to run out of patience with him too. He’s done some good here and there this season but given that he’s arguably one of the most talented players in the squad, he should be doing a lot better. He’s actually my 5th choice central midfielder now after dropping below Sissako, Raf, Joël and Goujon in the pecking order. We’ve got plenty of talented kids waiting patiently in the reserves and unless Lamine starts showing me more I’ll be giving them a try.

In under 18 minutes we're a goal down. We push too far forward and allow the hosts to break. Larrodo's diagonal ball onto the left is latched onto by Bazile, he whips a great cross in from the byline and Thill pops up to head home from close range. You'd think that because I recognised that we pushed too far forward, I'd do something about it tactically. I don't though and less than 10 minutes later we're 0-2 down. Taking advantage of our defence's high line, Soudani chips a ball straight over the top and Thill controls it well and calmly finds the bottom corner. Bollocks.

And so about 10 minutes after the nick of time, I spring into action. We go on the counter. Tirard and Zoun swap wings and play as out and out wingers while Aidir will hold the ball up as a lone target man. I'm not sure if our chance of a result has already slipped away though.

It certainly seems like it. Our only semi-meaningful contribution of the half is when Hicham Aidir dribbles forward and tries his luck from 35 yards, but Darko Dejanovic catches it comfortably. At half time I'm honestly sympathetic towards the players. This deficit is my doing, going all gung-ho away from home against a decent team.

In the 53rd minute the hosts are toying with us. Kums plays a pinpoint pass through the left channel for Bazile, who smashes the ball at goal and is denied by a good parry from Lenogue. We'll try to exploit the flanks to bypass their defensive midfield pairing but we're still really struggling to find a foothold.

With half an hour to play we do go close. Joël chips a nice ball into the box for Aidir to run onto and the Moroccan drills it towards the bottom corner, but Dejanovic saves well. From the resulting corner Tirard swings a decent cross in for our striker but Hicham's header flashes wide of the far post.

In desperation we go 4-4-2, sacrificing Raf for Florian Ayé. We go back on the attack and play more direct to the big men up top. Apart from a Thill potshot 10 minutes later though, the match is dead. A deserved 0-2 loss.

So what have we learned? Well for one thing, don't start gloating about how much better your keeper is at keeping clean sheets than a rival keeper right before you play the rival keeper's fucking team. That's a good rule of thumb. And definitely don't go out to attack a good team on their turf. That was a rookie error. Lastly, don't give your players "One last chance" to impress you and then fuck the match up yourself. There's a lot to be learned here actually.

Fortunately we have a chance to bounce back before the international break starts and I want 2 wins from the 2 matches we have before the players jet off. The squads have been named and in terms of Auxerre players, Zoun, Raf, Ba and Doucouré are all off to join up with their national sides, while interestingly our loaned out full back Billy gets his first Morocco call up for his good form in Belgium. There's no such call up for Hicham Aidir though.

And we will bounce back. We'd better anyway. Chamois Niortais are not a good side. They're languishing just above the relegation zone and I want to make up for that loss with a thumping win to deepen their relegation fears. Phil Foden's thankfully back in full training but he won't be fit enough to play today.

So as we’ve established, I made a right dick of myself in the Metz game. After giving ultimatums to 2 of my players, the blame for the loss ended up falling well and truly on my shoulders, so here’s what I’ll do: I am making no changes whatsoever. I won’t hold that result against any of the players and they’ll get another chance to impress me today. A home match against Chamois Niortais is a much more appropriate time to go out on the front foot and it’s a great opportunity for Lamine and Corentin to win me over.

Fomba shows a great glimpse of quality for our first chance on goal: He dinks the ball beautifully onto Aidir's left foot and the big striker shapes his body well to volley it goalwards, but it just misses the bottom left corner. 10 minutes before the break though a couple of our in form players get us off the mark. Joël squares the ball for Zoun 20 yards out and our nippy winger finds the top right corner. Postage stamp.

In first half injury time El Hajhouj turns Captiste inside out with some fancy footwork to make some space on the edge of our box, but he spoons his shot over the bar. He's ruing his missed opportunity as we enter the 2nd minute of injury time when Joël harries an opposition midfielder to win the ball high up, plays a one-two with Aidir, lofts a great through ball into the path of Zoun on the left, who buries it to double his tally. We go in for the break on the right side of a 2-0 lead this time.

10 minutes after the game gets back underway, Raf plays a long ball onto the left for the electric Zoun to chase. The keeper Racciopi runs out onto the wing to clear his lines but Raf has the sheer audacity to volley the ball straight back towards goal from the half way line. My heart stops. The keeper's beaten... But it's heading wide. Out of nowhere, Hicham Aidir latches onto the ball and tries a shot from a tight angle... And hits the post. That could've been the moment of the season. Raf, you rascal.

Aidir's not had a great couple of matches to be honest. I bring him off with 25 minutes to play to see if Ayé can do any better. That's pretty much that though. Rocheteau tests Lenogue with a decent effort late on and Goujon and Aguilar make late appearances, but we come away with a thoroughly acceptable 2-0 victory. Joël and Zoun have, as usual, been far more than acceptable. They both put in exemplary performances today.

And now we wait with bated breath to see whether we'll keep our 3 point lead at the top of Ligue 2. Bourg are currently 3 points behind but they do have a hugely important game in hand. Fingers crossed they fuck it up.

Fomba Leads The Way (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep140)

Joël Soumahoro is a bloody record breaker. Let that sink in. 13 assists in a season is a new AJ Auxerre best, eclipsing Jérôme Mombris’ 12. I feel like a proud parent. Little Joël, the lad who was playing in the Côte d'Ivoire Premier Division with Academie de Foot Amadou Diallo just 2 years ago, is all grown up and breaking records in the French 2nd tier. With promotion still looking likely I genuinely wonder whether he can make another step up to the Elite world of Ligue 1. It could happen. He’s also selected in the Team of the Week along with Zoun, after the pair of them linked up twice brilliantly to defeat Chamois Niortais.

But it’s not just Joël that I’m proud of today. Chancel Kasongo is a name that all but the most switched on Auxerre fans have probably forgotten at this point, but when I came in last season to fight the fire that was relegation from Ligue 2, I gave young Chancel his professional debut in the hope that a fresh and creative mind could pull us out of the mire. He certainly did his part and did it well, but ironically had no place in the squad when Joël’s transfer was finalised. He was loaned out for the season to AFC Tubize in the Belgian Pro League B, but they won’t be a Belgian Pro League B team for much longer. Thanks in no small part to their standout French midfielder Kasongo, Tubize are going up to the top tier of Belgian football and I’m fucking delighted for them. Chancel's only scored a single goal, but he's assisted 9 more and won 4 Player of the Match awards. I'm going to have some serious assessing to do when he returns in the Summer.

And that’s not all that’s happened in a news-heavy week: A consortium has stepped into the light, led by Lapland-based Dennis Sundberg, with the intention of taking over AJ Auxerre. The rumours about local investment and former footballers have died away in the midst of this news and it seems like the story has momentum, but I’m not sure I’m too pleased. You see, according to the stories I’ve read, Sundberg and Co are looking to invest under £1 Million in our club. I don’t think I’ve moaned about this yet but despite our positive bank balance last Summer and the profits we made in the subsequent transfer windows, the club is now over £3 Million in the red. Even the most optimistic of mathematicians will tell you that all of these numbers don’t add up to a happy ending. I hope that Mr Sundberg, if he does take over our club, has his cheque book ready or we’re in trouble. On the other hand though, the only other Lapland-based business I’ve ever heard of involved a bearded gentleman that shook his belly like a bowlful of jelly and had a taste for cookies and milk, so maybe a Christmas miracle will ease our financial crisis.

And as if there wasn't enough going on, apparently we're closing in on an Auxerre wins record and are currently 3 away from levelling our personal best of 22.

We're travelling to Red Star in search of win number 20 today and I really hope we can find it because we're in danger of being left behind Bourg-en-Bresse. They won their game in hand and climbed 3 points clear at the top of the season thanks to our loss at Metz. I'll be so annoyed if that result costs us the title.

I've kept an eye on Red Star as I do with all upcoming opponents and they play with a narrow 4-4-2 diamond, which is a formation I've not often come up against in my career. It's a tricky one to counter as usually I'd bring out Project: Burnie Mk III, which allows us to man mark a 4-4-2 strike pair with a spare man, but with the narrow diamond funnelling nearly all the opposition players down the middle I think we'd get overpowered pretty easily. So today calls for a different approach. We'll go with Project: Meatloaf Mk II, we'll play on the counter, we'll be narrow to suffocate their midfield and we'll exploit the flanks where they're weak, doubling up with inside forwards and über attacking wingbacks bombing beyond them. I'm making a few changes from the Chamois game but probably not the ones you're expecting. Tirard and Fomba keep their places after putting in decent shifts while Hikem, Raf and Aidir are dropped after their poor performances to be replaced by Aguilar, Goujon and Ayé, who makes his 150th club appearance. Phil Foden's on the bench.

We start quickly. We're happy to play patient passes around the edge of the box until Lamine Fomba spots Issa Samba pelting down the flank. Fomba sprays the ball out wide to him in acres of space and Samba gets a good cross in, but Zoun can only direct his header over the bar from close range.

It takes another 20 minutes before we find the breakthrough and it's a well practised free kick routine that does it. Tirard passes short to Joël, who plays the ball out wide for Samba. The wing back gets another cross in from the byline and Ayé emerges unmarked at the near post to head the ball home.
7 minutes later it's becoming painfully clear who's running the show so far. Issa Samba charges once again down the right wing, loving the freedom of his new attacking wing back role. He skips past the challenge of Al-Abdulrahman and floats a great cross over to the far post. Florian Ayé's on hand to cushion the ball down and Zoun volleys it, but Tchagouni makes a superb reflex save to keep his side from falling further behind.

A few minutes later Samba has the ball again in an advanced position but this time switches it beautifully to Ruben Aguilar on the left. Aguilar gets the ball out of his feet with his first touch and drills it low with his second, but the shot deflects off a defender and bobbles through to Ayé. He hits it towards the bottom corner but is denied by another terrific save from Tchagouni. We actually do get a chance from the resulting corner when Tirard's cross is cleared as far as Joël, but the playmaker puts his 20 yard shot over the bar.

We look certain to go in for the break with a narrow lead but in the 45th minute, Corentin Tirard whips a cross in from a free kick on the right wing, Loïc Goujon flicks the ball on and Lamine Fomba places it under the keeper from close range. My fists shoot straight into the air. You've no idea how happy it makes me to see those 3 names linking up to score a goal. We take a 2-0 lead into the changing room at half time.

We start the second half just as quickly as we start the first, killing off any plans of an early fight back from Red Star as they struggle to keep us out. The first 5 minutes is one-way traffic and when Tirard's corner's cleared to the edge of the box on 50 minutes, Joël brings the ball down and moves it straight on to Zoun on the 6 yard box. He shoots from a narrow angle but only rattles the post. He's been unlucky so far today but he's getting in the right positions and that's pretty reassuring.

Barely a minute later the hosts go close when Pierre-Gabriel finds space on the right and crosses into the box. Bailly nods the ball on and Timite heads at goal, bit Lenogue catches it comfortably.
With 25 minutes to go before the International break I welcome Phil Foden back into the fold. He comes on replacing Corentin Tirard, who in all fairness hasn't been bad for the last few games, he's just been quite average. A few minutes later Joël curls the ball onto the right wing into the path of Samba. He crosses once again into the box for Ayé and the striker cushions the ball down for Foden a few yards out - But Foden's hacked down by a 2 footed challenge. "Come on!" I shout in protest, but I'm immediately drowned out by the sound of the travelling fans' celebrations as Florian Ayé tucks the ball in himself.

Red Star aren't going down without a fight though. 90 seconds after our 3rd goal Pierre-Gabriel finds space again and cuts the ball back for Laurent Bailly, who forces a good low save from Xavier Lenogue. They get their reward for persistence a few minutes later. A lovely little move sees Bamba chip the ball to Al-Abdulrahman on the left, who volleys it into the box, where Bailly smashes his volley over Lenogue without the ball touching the floor.

I decide that now's a good time to bring out a variation of Project: Burnie Mk III and haul off Joël and Zoun to be replaced by Raf and Kakuba. We go to a 3-3-2-1-1 formation with Captiste, Kakuba and Doucouré across the back, Samba, Goujon and Aguilar in front of them, and then Raf and Fomba supporting Foden in the number 10 role and Ayé up top. I am still a little bit gutted for Phil that he was savaged once again and denied a place on the scoresheet because of it, but with 4 minutes to play he puts that right with a 20 yard free kick that he curls beautifully over the wall and into the top corner. Welcome back, you brilliant bastard.

Straight from kick off we see yet more signs of life from Red Star, but when Muyumba chips the ball into the path of the goalscorer Bailly, he skies it over the bar on the volley. We could just wait for the whistle at this point but our inspiration to keep plugging away comes from an unlikely source: Lamine Fomba collects the ball from Raf on the edge of the box and drills in his 2nd goal of the match. 5-1.

The French Football Daily runs with the headline "Fomba Leads The Way For AJ Auxerre" the following morning and my chest swells with pride. I know it's only one match, but maybe, just maybe Lamine Fomba's decided to finally turn it on. He was monstrous in midfield today and I hope so much that he keeps going from here.

With the International break upon us I plan on watching some of my players with their national teams, but before I can do that Adama Ba comes knock-knock-knocking on Franjo's door. Before he even finishes his request for more first team football I send him Captiste's way. He's much better at this shit than I am and true to form, he turns Ba's frown upside down.

Captiste also grabs himself a place in Ligue 2's Team of the Week, along with fellow defenders Doucouré and Aguilar, midfielders Goujon and Fomba and good old Florian Ayé. Frankly, quite how Issa Samba doesn't get a spot in that team is beyond me though. Lamine Fomba also wins 3rd place in March's Player of the Month, beaten only by former Arsenal forward Giles Sunu and Vincent Thill, the man that embarrassed me in front of all my friends during our match against FC Metz.

I'm delighted on several levels to watch Morocco's home friendly against Burkina Faso, firstly because Zoun puts in a decent showing despite being horribly misused as a "Right sided midfielder" for the visitors, but also because he ends up playing directly against Morocco's substitute debutant left back Billy. They have a decent duel down the wing for 35 minutes in the second half before Zoun's subbed off, with Billy more than holding his own and helping Morocco to snatch a late draw.

With the players back from their respective matches, we get our game faces on. We're still 3 points behind the insufferable Bourg-en-Bresse but we've now got 64 points and 20 wins, so if we can build up some momentum for the run in we can catch them up and go for a couple of club records in one fell swoop. 72 points and 22 wins are the records to aim for.

We host Clermont Foot today and they're by no means a bad team but their recent form has been patchy to say the least. With Abdoulaye Sissako finally back from injury during the break we're back to having a full squad to choose from, so I don't think we've got any excuses not to win this.

Project: Meatloaf is on the menu. Clermont play very defensive football in a compact 4-1-4-1 so we'll need to be at our best to break them down. Our only personnel change from before the break is Phil Foden, who is back to full fitness and takes the place of Corentin Tirard. I've not been impressed to be honest.

13 minutes in we win a corner on the right and Phil Foden hits an in-swinger towards the 6 yard box. Clermont's centre midfielder Richard tries to clear but can only flick the ball on towards Zoun, who heads the ball into Jeannin's arms. Zoun looks like he's got something to prove after a frustratingly quiet couple of weeks and receives the ball from Joël on the left wing after about 25 minutes. The Burkinabe winger swips across the defensive line towards the centre and sends a shot careening towards the far top corner, but Jeannin pulls out a top class save to deny him again and tip the ball behind.

Otherwise the first half's pretty quiet and so is most of the second. On the hour mark and with Ba's unhappiness and the fact that Hicham Aidir's been out of my side for what must be a record amount of time both at the forefront of my mind, I bring the pair on in place of Zoun and Ayé and it does seem to spark us into life. With 20 minutes to play Adama Ba slides the ball in front of Lamine Fomba and the midfielder thumps it against the bar from 25 yards. It's a close one but we've been taking too many long shots out of frustration today, unable to break through the visitors' defensive lines. We switch up to play a higher tempo, pass shorter, roam from our positions, play a more expressive style and work the ball into the box. As the defence begins to tire these changes should pull them around to breaking point.

Sure enough, we have the breakthrough within 5 minutes. It's a familiar sight from the last couple of matches seeing Fomba play Issa Samba in behind the defence on the right and the full back squares the ball from the byline. Hicham Aidir arrives to poke it into the open net from close range and I've already forgotten why I dropped him in the first place.

We revert to our normal style after the goal but Clermont forced to try and push out, we're 2-0 up within 3 minutes. This time Joël plays a one-two with Fomba and then passes it to Foden with his back to goal on the edge of the box. He turns and rifles the ball towards the far bottom corner and although Jeannin gets a glove to the ball, he can't stop it from rolling over his hand and in.

And that's that. With the game wrapped up in a bow I introduce Raf and bring Joël off for a deserved rest. It doesn't stop the 2 goal scorers from linking up one more time in the 92nd minute though, when Foden lays the ball off for Aidir and the resurgent Moroccan smashes it low towards goal. Again, Jeannin gets a hand to it but again the ball's only got time for a quick 'hello' with the keeper's fingertips before it has to go and be in the back of the net for me. 3-0 and we're back at the top of the league. True, Bourg have a game in hand again, but I don't care about that at the minute. Phil's back, Hicham's back and I think I can safely say that AJ Auxerre are back in form.

Auxerre’s To Lose (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep141)

Lads, break out the wine and let the streets of Auxerre run burgundy with the stuff! Bourg-en-Bresse have finally lost and the Domino’s Ligue 2 title is Auxerre’s to lose once more. With 6 games to go both we and our title rivals are on 67 points, but with our 25 goal superior goal difference we’re essentially a point ahead. I’d like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Stade Malherbe Caen for their contribution to our season, because Bourg were on a terrific run and they took some stopping.

I’ve given Bourg a lot of stick but both sides at the top are having fantastic seasons. Even though we finished 16th last season we were predicted for a 7th place finish, which makes our rise to the top impressive but nothing on Bourg. They finished a single place above us last season and were predicted to stay exactly where they were, so for them to be in this title race we’re really bordering on Leicester City in the Premier League territory. It’s a fantastic achievement. Meanwhile, we're now just 5 points away from our record points tally of 72.

The Coupe de la Ligue is over and it's the scrappy underdogs at Paris Saint-Germain that've snatched the cup, beating Toulouse in the final. I'm happy for them that they can finally get some use out of that trophy cabinet. What a breath of fresh air.

Phil Foden’s back and is straight into the Team of the Week after his great performance against Clermont, while his equally impressive team mate Joël is gunning for the Ligue 2 record of 14 assists in a single season and is currently 2 away from levelling it.

There may have been a potential hiccup with Dennis Sundberg's proposed takeover of our club though, which has dampened spirits somewhat. Apparently the Lapland-based consortium might not have enough money to complete the transaction and you can see why that might be a problem.

There's nothing we can do about off-field problems though so we turn our attention back to the pitch. Groupe Sportif Consolat's pitch specifically where we'll look to finally open some distance between us and Bourg. We could also equal the club record 22 wins in a season with 3 points today.

GSC usually line up with a narrow diamond and I lick my lips at the prospect of coming up against another one of those, having seen off Red Star 5-1 not long ago who used the same shape. We'll use the same narrow, counter attacking Project: Meatloaf Mk II system with attacking wing backs that we used that day and we'll look for a similar result. Hicham Aidir is back in the starting XI as a reward for his impressive display from the bench last week, while Zoun comes out for a rest, with his form having dropped a bit. Adama Ba comes in on the left, while Sissako makes the bench after his recent injury woes.

GSC are the first to fire a warning shot just 2 minutes after we get underway. Bourniet sends a good corner flying awkwardly across our goal and Lenogue's beaten in the air by Satli, but the centre back glances his header just wide of the far post. Only a few minutes later they're pushing again, this time with a good cross from Mazikou, deep on the left wing. Leclere runs towards the far post to try to latch onto the ball but he's shoved clumsily to the floor by Ruben Aguilar. The full back knows that his place in the starting 11 is far from secure at the best of times and his head goes straight into his hands as the referee points to the spot. Faucher steps up and slides the ball confidently into the bottom left corner to put the hosts ahead.

10 minutes later the game's devolved into a hoofball match with the ball being pinged from end to end without any sense of control. Finally though it's Auxerre that get it on the floor and start playing a bit more through Aguilar on the left. Eager to make up for his mistake in our area he cuts in and plays an excellent through ball into Aidir's path and the striker hits it past Bozic's outstretched glove first time to equalise. If I had a list of all the players' names, I'd be scribbling over the frowny face next to Ruben's and replacing it with a smiley one. I don't though, so I just give him a thumbs up and a wink.

The most pleasantly surprising part is what happens straight from kick off. We win the ball back and Adama Ba chips it up the left wing for Aidir, who nods it on and chases the ball down to the byline. He whips a cross into the box and up pops 5'6" Phil Foden to power a header past the keeper, completing our turnaround in a bizarre but pleasing display of role reversal.

The rest of the first half is a tight affair and there's not much quality on display from either side. We do go close early in the second half though when Foden plays a nice one-two with Joël from a free kick and then loops a cross in from the right wing. Whether it's accidental or not only Phil knows, but the ball drops over the furiously back-pedalling goalkeeper, hits the bar and goes behind, leaving Bozic to breathe a huge sigh of relief. A minute later Ba picks up a knock, which is a shame as he's not had much of a chance to feature since Christmas. Zoun comes on to replace him but the rest of the match is quiet. On reflection though it's a deserved 3 points and another impressive performance by Hicham, Phil and the gang.

It's bad news on the Ba front as he's picked up a groin strain and will miss about 2 weeks, but it's good news for Zoun because I'll sort of be forced to put him straight back into the team.

2 of our number do make it into the Team of the Week, which isn't surprising in itself, but the fact that both Aidir and Foden are left out is. It's actually Issa Samba and Mamadou Doucouré that are picked after their solid displays against GSC.

I've been focussing on the records that we are and soon might be breaking for so long that they've sort of lost all meaning, but for those keeping score: We're now on 70 points, which is 2 behind our record, and 22 wins, which is level with our record. Hicham's on 22 league goals, 4 behind Djibril Cissé's Ligue 2 record of 26 and 9 Player of the Match awards, which is also equal with Auxerre's record.

Phew. Also, Dennis Sundberg must have flashed the cash to Mr Zhou because the takeover talks are back on after that set back last week. Honestly I don't know if this is good or bad news at this point, but hey ho.

Our next match at the Stade Abbé-Deschamps is against Stade Malherbe Caen, the side that so helpfully beat Bourg-en-Bresse to put us top of the league. They're doing pretty well in the league and sit in 8th place, but I'm hoping for a professional job today to break our personal best points tally.

They line up with a 4-2-3-1 and so shall we. Bourg also matched their shape and came off worse, but they didn't have our system. They didn't have Project: Meatloaf. Issa Samba's suspended for this one and with Adama Ba ruled out with that groin strain, Faouzi Hikem and Zoun are back in, with Aguilar starting in his favoured right back spot.

We get off to a fantastic start in under 7 minutes when Phil Foden chips a free kick in from the right wing. Lamine Fomba rises to nod the ball on and Aidir lets it drop over his shoulder before lashing it in on the volley at the far post. We're not allowed to celebrate our lead for very long though as within 4 minutes a slick Caen move from a throw in results in an equaliser. Diego throws it to Kalmár, who nods it on for Suljic, who plays it inside for Wesley Saïd, who finishes it off with aplomb.

15 minutes later it's us who are pushing for the lead, but Foden's caught in possession and robbed by N'Simba, who launches the ball upfield to start a counter attack. Saïd chases it into our box and shoots low, but Lenogue does well to tip it behind for a corner. I'm a little bit worried at how we were done by the striker's pace there, so we revert to Project: Meatloaf Mk II, with a deeper defensive line and Goujon dropping back as a holding man so that we don't leave too much of a gap between defence and midfield.

The change does the job to some extent as the game quietens right down. After the hour mark though it's becoming clear that we need another change of tact to get the winning goal. Zoun's getting no joy cutting in from the left but the right wing back Diego is pushing up and leaving lots of space, so Tirard comes on as a winger to try and make the most of the gap on the left side. With 10 minutes to go though Caen are in the ascendency and a patient move ends with Diego playing a ball through our defence and into the box for Saïd. Captiste gets across to make a good tackle and sends the ball rolling, but only as far as Suljic, who hits it goalwards. Lenogue can only bat the ball into his own net. Shit.

We're now in serious danger of losing Bourg once again in the title race. I throw Sissako on for Goujon as a ball winner with the license to get forward and do some damage and we'll go attacking and just take the risk that they won't take advantage with Saïd's pace. We'll try to play the offside trap just to be safe but to be honest losing 1-2 or 1-3 makes no difference at this point. I also want the wingbacks getting forward as much as possible. It's all hands on deck time.

With 6 minutes to play the ball comes to Joël in the middle and he volleys it onto the left wing for Tirard. The often underwhelming winger takes a fantastic touch, allowing him to speed away from Fortes and into the box. He shoots - And balloons his shot way over the bar.

I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly curse and condemn Stade Malherbe Caen for royally fucking our season. Bourg-en-Bresse, having won their match, have climbed to 73 points and cut us adrift once again. They've now guaranteed at least a play-off spot and even though we're only 4 points away from mathematically securing promotion ourselves, I've got that sinking feeling of failure again.

Stars (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep142)

I close my eyes and press my fingers to my temples. I wish this fucking takeover would just happen or just not. For the last 2 weeks all I've heard is "Takeover off"...

 "Takeover on"...

 Over and over and over again. Either cough up the funds, Sundberg, or don't, because you're making a really fucking bad first impression. I'm already sick of you and you've not even started setting me unreasonable expectations or selling my best players yet.

In better news though, both Joël Soumahoro and Hicham Aidir are thought to be in contention for the Ligue 2 Star of the Season award. In my eyes it'd be richly deserved if either of them were to win it.

And there's also high praise for our unflappable skipper Captiste from Laurent Blanc, who's been praising him on For an Auxerre centre back, it doesn't get much better than that.

But there's an elephant in the room. Several actually. It's a big room. We face RC Strasbourg Alsace today at their place and for so many reasons it's a huge, huge match. Firstly, a win here in Strasbourg would set a new Auxerre points record.

 Secondly, a win would also set a new Auxerre win record. 

Thirdly, anything but a win could effectively end our title push, allowing Bourg-en-Bresse to open the gap between 1st and 2nd to 6 points. Fourthly, Strasbourg are bottom of Ligue 2, so we'd deserve to lose all hope of winning the title by losing against them. Lastly, and by far the most importantly when all's said and done, a win here today would seal our Promotion to Ligue 1. When you take out all of the other shit, this is what really matters. Promotion to Ligue 1. Home of PSG, Monaco, Marseille, Lille and Lyon. Home of Auxerre. Home of Franjo. Now wouldn't that be something.

"Listen", I begin. I've scheduled an emergency team meeting to say a few words ahead of the big match. "We aren't meant to be here." I grin and a few of the Auxerre lads chuckle. "We're the team that survived relegation last season. We're the team that was meant to be safe and steady this year." I'm talking as calmly and as kindly as I can. As I do, I wonder to myself whether I actually mean the words I'm about to say. "If we don't get this promotion, it's no big deal. OK?" I see a few players relax. "We aren't meant to be here." I say again. "But because of your hard work we are." I smile again, looking around at the players. "Give it your best. Don't overthink it." I wink and head for the door as the players cheer, shout and clap their approval.

We will of course be serving Meatloaf today with a side of victory. Adama Ba's back in full training but isn't fit enough to start, so we go mainly unchanged, with the exception of Aguilar, who drops out and is replaced by Issa Samba, who's back from suspension. I was hoping to see Fabien Fonrose in action today, the young centre back that Strasbourg have taken on loan from us, but he's ruled out with a groin strain and won't feature.

I'll be honest, Strasbourg's decision to line up with a 4-4-2 takes me by surprise. The last time we met they opted for one of the oddest looking 3-2-3-2 formations I've ever seen, but I suppose they have sacked Manager Frédéric Varela and replaced him with Sébastien Roi since then, so I shouldn't have expected a repeat performance. I do consider scrapping Project: Meatloaf and going for Project: Burnie Mk III, which is more suited to playing against such a shape. I'll leave that idea in the back pocket for now though, because against the worst club in the league Meatloaf should be fine.

22 minutes in, Kljun's corner is headed clear by Goujon and picked up on the edge of the box by Rúben Vinagre. The left winger takes the ball down and fires it along the floor, beating Lenogue and finding the far bottom corner. Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks. Lenogue should do better, but take nothing away from that finish. It's a good goal and we might actually be in trouble.

5 minutes later though we respond with some of the most excellent 2-touch football I've seen from this side. We're zipping passes around for fun, bamboozling the opposition midfielders as we touch and pass, touch and pass, touch and pass some more. About 10 passes into the move, Foden plays the ball inside for Joël, who slips it behind the full back for Zoun. He squares it for Hicham Aidir and we all know what happens next. 1-1. Absolutely beautiful stuff.

A couple of minutes after the equaliser RCSA want their lead back. They come forward but lose possession and we counter quickly. Aidir sprays the ball out onto the left for Zoun to chase. He takes control, gets to the byline and crosses to the far post, where Phil Foden lets the ball fall right onto his boot and volleys it into the back of the net. My fists pummel the air. This is more like it. This is the Auxerre that put us in the title race in the first place. That's Phil's 10th goal of the season too. Good lad.

A couple of minutes before the break we should go 3-1 up after some more sublimely slick passing. This time Fomba plays the final ball, slipping Phil Foden in behind the defence. Foden aims for the far corner but is denied by a tremendous fingertip save by Oukidja. We settle for the 1 goal lead at the break but I am making changes. Zoun's had a terrific half but I'm going to do what I should've done from the start and bring out Project: Burnie Mk III. Ayé comes on replacing the winger and we'll play on the counter, with Loïc Goujon dropping into central defence, Joël stepping back into a deeper playmaking role and Phil Foden playing behind the 2 strikers.

I should see the warning signs. Pretty much straight from kick off Kljun plays a long ball over the top of our defence for Robin to run after. He leaves Captiste for dead but our skipper manages to force him out to a narrow angle with a good recovery. He gets a shot away but Lenogue catches it easily at his near post. A minute later though, the hosts win a corner. Vinagre takes this one and chips it to the near post. As he does, Robin spins away from his marker, Captiste, controls the ball unmarked, turns and places it into the far corner of the net. 2-2. 10 minutes later my heart's in my mouth as Aholou receives the ball in space and tries his luck from 25 yards, but his shot cracks off the bar and Samba manages to scramble it clear.

We stay level for the majority of the second half. Although the chance of Strasbourg dropping down to the division below are high, it's not a certainty yet and they aren't going without a fight. I don't care though. I want this done and I want it done today so that we can at least keep pace with Bourg. I roll the dice. We'll attack them relentlessly for the last 10 minutes and try to force the result.

In the 87th minute we're playing some nice football once again. We could have one last chance. Hikem passes to Foden, who passes to Fomba, 30 yards out. Hicham Aidir's level with the defensive line. Fomba tries to poke the ball through for him... But Hicham doesn't make the run. He steps back to try to collect the ball to his feet and it zips right past him. It's a breakdown in communication and the ball trickles slowly to a stop back into Strasbourg's box. It's over. Etienne plays the ball back to his keeper... And underhits it. In the blink of an eye, Aidir sprints into the box, beats both defender and keeper to the ball and prods it into the net. He's done it. We've fucking done it.

Defensive lockdown ensues, with Sissako and Raf replacing Joël and Aidir and a 3-3-2-1-1 shape deployed. It works. We see out the match by the skin of our teeth at 3-2.

I can't believe we pulled that off. A combination of my bad decisions and individual mistakes looked certain to cost us our spot in the title race, but Aidir's come through again. We're bloody promoted. Give that man the Star of the Season award. Give it to all of them.

As Crouchie, the coaching staff, the substitutes, the travelling fans and I spill onto the pitch to meet the players, I find myself unable to wipe the look of shock and amazement from my face. The noise is deafening and by the time I'm 20 feet onto the pitch I'm surrounded from all sides by the loyal Auxerre support, ruffling my hair and clapping me on the back as the stewards try to drag them off. Hit by sudden realisation, I ask nobody in particular "Bourg? What's the Bourg result?"

"Ç'est un match nul!" Replies a pissed-up gentleman directly in front of me. "Ç'est un match nul!"

I laugh with delight and celebrate with the fans. Bourg-en-Bresse bloody drew. This title race is still very much on.

Rules (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 142.5)

Temporary Rules In Effect

All Player Please Observe Until The End Of The Season

Rule 1. Promotion celebrations are to be kept to a minimum until the end of the Season. Consumption of alcohol is banned.

Rule 2. Extra training sessions are mandatory. Anyone who leaves training early is out of the next match day squad. No exceptions.

Rule 3. Fast food is strictly prohibited, with the exception of McDonalds salad, which Crouchie assures me is healthy and nutritious.

Rule 4. Spend 5 minutes every day imagining the feeling of triumphing over Bourg-en-Bresse and lifting the title. Picture their faces. They’re livid.

Rule 5. Are you religious? Great! Pick a Bourg-en-Bresse player and pray that he breaks his leg.

Rule 6. Kill Bourg. Bourg die. Bad Bourg.

Rule 7. *Illegible scribbling*

Rule 8. I am the King. Bourg are the not.

Rule 9. All beer and no fast food makes Bourg a not King.

Rule 10. *More illegible scribbling*

Rule 11. *More still*

Rule 12. *A crude drawing of Abel Xavier*

Rule 13. I am not Tiara

Rule 14.


I jump, dropping my pencil. I wasn’t aware that my assistant had appeared and was reading over my shoulder. “Yes, Crouchie?”

“Those rules... Do you think...”

“I can only think of about 15 but a lot of them are sort of conceptual. Did you see the diagrams?” I get no response. “Have you got any ideas?”

I turn and look at Crouchie, who shifts uncomfortably. “It’s just that those rules might be a bit... Strict. Don’t you think?”

“We can’t take our eyes off the ball now, mate. We’re so close to the title! We can’t get complacent.”

“I get that part.” Says Crouchie, still looking massively uncomfortable.

“Ask Abbey if she’s got any more ideas will you?”

He starts to nod but quickly stops himself. “... No. The thing is Boss that they’re really fucking inappropriate and... Just odd.”

I look at him, puzzled. Then I look at my list of rules; The fruits of my night’s work. Then back at Crouchie. “I don’t see what you mean.”

“Have you slept here, Boss?”

I laugh slightly more maniacally than I intend to. “Crouchie, I can’t sleep! Not while there’s rules to be written! Not while there’s order to be kept! Not while there’s a title to be won!”

Crouchie watches me with a concerned look on his face. “It’s 9am!” He says, exasperated. Come on, I’ll give you a lift home. You need to sleep.”

Begrudgingly I take my rules, stand and follow him out of my office. “Make sure the boys see my rules.”

As we exit the Centre de Formation, Crouchie grabs the sheet of paper and crumples it up, before stuffing it into his back pocket. “Why don’t I type them up? Make them a bit neater?”

I laugh again as he unlocks the car and we climb inside. “Good luck. Most of them are conceptual. Did you see the dia...”

My eye lids haul themselves shut with such force and ferocity that I have no power to stop them. I’m asleep within seconds.

Rules - Part 2 (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep143)

Temporary Rules In Effect

All Players Please Observe Until The End Of The Season

No late nights, no fast food, no alcohol. Give your all. Save the celebrations for after we win the title.

- Crouchie

I scrunch up my face. "Wasn't my version a bit... Meatier?"

"The work of a fucking madman." Chuckles Crouch. "You drew Abel Xavier coming out of a magic lamp with a speech bubble that said 'I'm a colossal waste of £1.5M'"

I shake my head. "No, I would've remembered doing that. It is true though." There's an uncomfortable pause. "You never played with him at Liverpool did you?"

"No, couple of years before me."

"Oh, good." Another uncomfortable pause. "Looks good anyway. Well summarised."

Refreshed and reinvigorated after about 12 hours sleep, my attention is now focussed like a laser beam upon our home match against CS Sedan Ardennes. Yes we've broken club records for number of points and number of wins, but this title race has become something of an obsession for me and I won't be satisfied until we win it.

In terms of individual accolades, another record has crumbled for poor, retiring Jérôme Mombris and this time it's for his 9 Player of the Match awards in the the 2018/19 season. After tapping home the goal that sealed our promotion, Hicham Aidir's racked up 10. He's on 25 league goals too, just 1 off Djibril Cissé's Ligue 2 record that's stood since his 2003/04 season for Auxerre nearly 20 years ago.

The one that makes me do a double take though is the shortlist that I'm sent for the Ligue 2 Goalkeeper of the Year award. Carrasso's good... Jeannin's OK... Mika... Where the bloody hell's Xavier Lenogue? You know, holder of the Ligue 2 clean sheet record? Last line of one of the league's best defences? Who did Thomas fucking Didillon sleep with to get on the bloody shortlist?

Never mind. I'll shortlist him for my own award. He's the first on the shortlist for The First Annual Franjo Award For Unappreciated Excellence. I'm deadly serious. We're doing this. I'm that petty.

Meanwhile, Dennis Sundberg's take over of the club is off and on more often than a really frail but determined bucking bronco enthusiast. Patience is being rapidly lost at my end.

But the greatest news of all this week is that our Burkinabe winger-turned-inside-forward Zoun has finally admitted that he's happy to stay at the club after letting me know in January that he was concerned about his playing time. I've given him a chance to adapt to our system since then and by jove he's taken it.

Ardennes are hoping to achieve mathematical safety in Ligue 2 with 3 points today, but needless to say I'm reluctant to let that happen. There are 3 matches left and I want 9 more points on the board. We're staying unchanged for this one and I'll be looking to Phil and Hicham in particular to keep their recent form going.

We get off to a rough start. With 15 minutes gone, Faouzi Hikem switches off and allows Bettoni to get goal-side of him. Collins flicks the ball through for the winger, who takes a touch and pokes the ball past Lenogue to open the scoring. 5 minutes later Zoun drives in from the left looking for an equaliser. He shoots with power but doesn't get the curl that he's looking for and sends the ball a yard wide of the far post.

We remain behind for the rest of the half and at the break I make my feelings perfectly clear to the team. Again. Only a few minutes after the restart though, goalscorer Bettoni plays a good ball into the channel for Collins, who runs through and shoots but can't beat Lenogue, who parries it behind.

With 20 minutes to go we're still trailing and we're still not looking likely of coming back into the game. Even less so when Konaté plays a good ball into the channel and Collins strokes it past Lenogue from the edge of the box to put us 0-2 down. Incensed, I make a trio of substitutions: Florian Ayé, Adama Ba and Abdoulaye Sissako replace the ineffective Hicham Aidir, Zoun and Lamine Fomba.

With 5 minutes to go, Ba continues his streak of injuring himself on his return to the team by picking up what looks like a thigh strain. He plays on though. A few minutes later we've come alive too and when our free kick breaks down Sissako brings the ball onto the right wing and curls a cross into the box. Ngoula hooks it out of immediate danger but Ayé chests it down and shoots, drawing a top class flying fingertip save from Hajji. Ba keeps the ball in, chips it into the box and Foden gets his head to it, but his effort's cleared off the line. Neither of those near misses are the really horrific part though. That comes just seconds later when Bettoni runs the ball down the wing on the counter and crosses, Lenogue makes a good save to keep out Collins' first effort, but then can't stop him tucking away the rebound. 0-3 and all hope is gone. All hope for the title has surely pissed off too.

We do manage to work the ball up to Ayé straight from kick off, who plays Foden in behind so he can place the ball into the top corner, but it's no more than a consolation goal. We dominated today while hardly ever threatening. We've bottled it.
The First Annual Franjo Award For Unappreciated Excellence (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Mini-sode 143.5)

Welcome, welcome, welcome ladies (Pause for laughter) and gentlemen. Welcome to The First Annual Franjo Award For Unappreciated Excellence, or... The FAFAFUE...

I think it’s only fair in the World of Football to give recognition where it’s due. Fans of bottom-half-of-the-table-clubs, how often have you beaten one of the League’s titans, only to have the story be all about them? Maybe you feel like punishing yourself for all of your sins and you listen to 606, where the phone lines are full of their fans complaining, instead of your fans celebrating?

"Manchester United Lose!" Cry the tabloids! "Paris Saint-Germain Lose! Barcelona Lose!"

When the headlines should rightfully be:

"West Brom Win! Guingamp Win! Alavés Fucking Win!"

But it never will be. It never will be because nobody’s buying the paper or clicking on the link or listening to the podcast with that headline, because far fewer people care about smaller clubs. Hence less sales, views or listens, less advertising and less revenue for those media outlets.

But no more. We’re setting a precedent this year. We’re appreciating the unappreciated and celebrating the uncelebrated and we’re starting right here with our own squad. Maybe our message will spread. Today Auxerre, Tomorrow the World!

It gives me great pleasure to announce the maiden shortlist for the FAFAFUE:

Xavier Lenogue - No 16 - Goalkeeper

Absent from the Ligue 2 Goalkeeper of the Season shortlist, no doubt thanks to the incompetence of those money grabbing pencil pushers down at City Hall, Xavier's smashed the league record for number of clean sheets kept this season and is the base of one of the league’s best defences.

Issa Samba - No 17 - Right Back

Definitely the runt of the Auxerre litter last Summer, academy graduate Issa nearly found himself leaving the club before taking his first team chance and putting together a run of form so phenomenal and consistent that I literally could not drop him from the starting 11. He’s gone from being on the very fringes of the squad to one of the first names on the team sheet.

Baptiste “Captiste” Aloé - No 2 - Centre Back

Oh Captain, my Captain. Not only has Captiste been solid and reliable on the field, but he’s also been the glue that holds the squad together off it. I’ve lost count of the amount of times he’s taken an unhappy player to one side and turned them around, making him essential in my starting 11 and in the changing room.

Mamadou Doucouré - No 25 - Centre Back

Initially brought in on loan as backup for Captiste and Mike Kakuba, Mamadou quickly ousted the latter as a first choice defender. He’s been so solid and consistent that I’ve barely had to mention him all year, except when I mention how little I mention him because of how solid and consistent he’s been.

Phil Foden - No 8 - Right Sided Inside Forward

The coin flip. I bought Phil for a record fee knowing full well that he was either going to be a disaster or an Auxerre great. He’s been the latter. Nobody else in the squad has reached double figures for both goals and assists and he may have even broken the club’s assist record if he hadn’t broken a rib and missed most of March. Throw on top of that the fact that he’s spent the season learning a new position and there’s no doubt that he’s impressed even more than I ever hoped he could.

Other (Please Specify)

These are the contenders. The Auxerre players consistently overlooked by the mainstream media despite the outstanding contributions that each of them have made throughout the entire season to Auxerre.

The winner is up to you. Please send your 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners to [email protected] (Or as a comment wherever you read this) before Tuesday’s Year 6 Review, where the winner will be presented with the greatest award of them all. And that’s saying a lot because the Domino’s Ligue 2 gives out about 20,000 individual awards.

Thank you and good night.

A New Era (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep144)

Hey, here's one: How many Lapland-based consortiums does it take to take over a French football club?

I don't know but this is beyond a fucking joke now, isn't it. I honestly just want the club's (And by extension, my) future sorted one way or another. I'll admit that that wasn't my best punchline.

Adama Ba should be back in time for our penultimate and ultimate games as it turns out that the injury he picked up against Ardennes is just a thigh strain. He'll be racing against the clock to be fit to start though.

Speaking of our final 2 matches, they do still matter. Bourg-en-Bresse got thrashed in their game in hand against La Berrichonne, meaning that we're still just 1 point behind them. If only we hadn't fluffed the Ardennes game we'd be 2 points ahead. My point is that the race is still on, but we need to stop dropping points.

Hicham Aidir continues to win the plaudits, this time voted 3rd in the Player of the month just behind Reims' Maxime Lopez and painfully, Ardennes' Andrew Collins. It's been a good month for Hicham but he's not even been firing at 100%. More than anybody I need him to show up if we're going to keep our title hopes alive.

Surprisingly Ardennes don't get any inclusions in the Team of the Week, but Phil's in there after his admittedly very nice consolation goal.

We've left ourselves with a lot to do today and that's not ideal, because an away tie against 4th placed Angers is by no means a good opportunity to pick up points. They're a tough side and I'd rather we'd taken our easier chances to pick up more wins, but here we are.

Project: Meatloaf hasn't been going well for us lately so we're lining up with our safer, counter attacking Project: Meatloaf Mk II for this one. Ba makes it back to fitness in time to come in for Zoun, while Aguilar and Sissako replace Hikem and Fomba. Come on lads. This time. Please.

Nothing happens. Nothing at all. It's one of those matches where I'm so bored that I want to tear it all up and make boat loads of changes halfway through, but simultaneously I don't want to change for the sake of it and open ourselves up for Angers to sneak a winner. After an hour I bring off Foden for Zoun so he can run at their tiring defence, but nothing.
And then like a sudden brilliant ray of light, we get a chance in the 92nd minute. Hicham Aidir carries the ball down the right wing as the travelling fans scream encouragement. He switches it across to Ba and runs for the box. Ba returns the favour and plays it back in for the striker, who shoots for the far bottom corner... Mika makes a fantastic fingertip save to deny us. 0-0 it ends.

Miraculously, Bourg can only draw themselves against Valenciennes and despite our best efforts we're still in with a chance of the title. It's embarrassing really. We're like the child racing an adult who's slowed down right at the finish line so as not to hurt our fragile pride.

The mood on the AJA team bus ride the following day is dour. Results are taking their toll on the squad's confidence. The wind's been knocked out of them after just 1 win over relegated Strasbourg in our last 4 matches. The Centre de Formation car park is usually near deserted the day after match day but as we pull in I notice a fair few unfamiliar vehicles. We park and I make my way towards the entrance to see a large, square-jawed man walking out to greet me.

"Ah, Franjo! At least we meet." He holds out a large hand. I wince at the corniness of his greeting but shake his hand all the same. "Dennis Sundberg," Says the large man, gesturing vaguely towards himself. "I'm your new Chairman."

"Thank fuck for that!" I laugh. Sundberg doesn't.

We make our way inside and I have my first meeting with the new Chairman of Auxerre. At first I'm happy that the endless drama of the impending takeover is done, but my smile fades as more and more details of the deal come to light.

Sundberg is investing no money into the club but he has taken out a £5M bank loan to keep us going. After a year in which money has been pouring out of the club like someone left the financial tap on, this loan gives us a balance of £1M to prepare for life in Ligue 1.

He's already started to cut ties with our affiliates and he may float the club on the stock market, which would mean paying out dividends using some of the club's already very questionably named "Profits". I am genuinely worried.

Imperfect (Franjo: A Journeyman Story - Ep145)

"Today's the day." I think as I slink out of bed. I pour out some granola and milk and sit at the table, my jaw absent-mindedly moving in a circular motion as I eat, like a cow vacantly chewing it's cud. I glance over to the empty food and water bowls in the corner of the room. Then my eyes wander over to the deflated paddling pool near the armchair. It's been a strange year. A lot's happened. Some of it good, some of it bad. Last summer I didn't have particularly lofty ambitions. I wanted to get Auxerre into the top half and maybe put us in a good position to push for promotion next year, but then we started playing football and I realised that promotion was the goal for this season. For the last quarter of the year or so though even that's seemed like just a matter of time, so my attention's turned to the title. We could have had it wrapped up by now. Bourg-en-Bresse have had their own dip in form since securing promotion but we've not been able to capitalise. Today's the day we turn that around.

Mamadou Doucouré's name has been on everybody's lips this week. Not only has he earned a place in the Team of the Week for helping us secure a clean sheet against Angers, but he's also the only player in the Auxerre squad with a chance of going to World Cup 2022 with Senegal. He's been named in Aly Gueye's preliminary squad and should he make it to the final one, I'll be right behind Senegal in the Summer.

I don't want his mind to be on anything but our match today though. We can't have our Mr Dependable at the back daydreaming about World Cup Glory. With 74 points from 37 matches, we end our season today with a home tie against La Berrichonne. They're a good side sitting in 6th but are very much the "Best of the rest" at 11 points behind the top 5. They'll give us a tough game. Bourg-en-Bresse, our title rivals, are playing the already relegated and bottom of the table side USBCO, where our young striker Brahim Ferhat is on loan. I really, really hope he can do us a favour today. If by some miracle USBCO win, we only need a draw in our match and our goal difference will win us the title. If they don't though, we need to win and we need Bourg not to.

So with that in mind, we're bowing out of the 2021/22 season with Project: Meatloaf. We will attack, get our wide lads cutting in, our full backs overlapping and we will go for the jugular. Zoun comes back into the side for Adama Ba but otherwise we're unchanged. Let's get this done.

In the first 10 minutes, Boscagli loses control of the ball and allows Phil Foden to stick a boot in and ping the ball ahead of Hicham Aidir. Aidir chases it into the box, takes aim and fires it low past Joris Delle and into the net with his unfavoured right foot. I leap from the dugout, punching the air. My heart's pounding. We've got first blood. As it stands, we're top of Ligue 2. The rest of the half is cagey but we go close to a second just before half time when Foden cuts in from the right, spots Delle off his line and tries to chip him from 30 yards. The keeper's beaten but the ball drops onto the roof of the net.

At the break I give the lads a verbal clap on the back. So far we're doing a job but we need to avoid complacency. We can't lose this lead. We head back out - And are 2-0 up within 2 minutes. Diallo's wayward clearance is collected by Goujon, who plays it to Zoun on the left. The winger dinks the ball inside for Hicham, who shapes his body brilliantly to thump it into the bottom corner with his left. The beautiful bastards. We're back in the nick of time.

5 minutes later, Zoun cuts in from the left as Aguilar bombs past him down the flank. He picks out the full back, who swings in a beautiful cross... Another match suddenly pops into my mind: A pre-season friendly from almost a year ago where we took on Eupen in this very stadium. Hicham Aidir scored a header and then a left footer. He had the opportunity to score a perfect hat trick from the penalty spot but he went with his left again. That day he scored an imperfect hat trick and I gave him a lot of grief for it in the following days. As Aguilar's cross floats through the air I already know what's coming. Leaping like a salmon, Hicham Aidir directs a header down over the outrushing goalkeeper to complete his first perfect hat trick. The big Moroccan charges over to the dugout and gets me in a crushing bear hug. "This time!" Screams the striker. "This time is perfect!" He releases me and I laugh as much as my potentially broken ribs will allow. What a fucking player.

No sooner does he jog back onto the pitch to restart the match though than Crouchie gestures me back to the bench. He's sat with his headphones in listening to commentary from the Bourg match. "Bourg penalty" he mouths. My heart drops. Come on, don't be dicks. Don't make this performance irrelevant. In the following seconds, all noise from the Stade Abbé-Deschamps fades into the background. All I can focus on is Crouch and his silence as he waits for news. After what feels like a long, long pause though, he laughs with relief. "They've fucked it." He grins. I beam back at him and turn my attention back to our game. Bourg have missed a penalty. The planets are aligning. Come on USBCO, you plucky bastards. Slay the Giants.

10 minutes later, Bosnjak chips the ball over the top for Paulo César to run onto, but Doucouré gets there first. Uncharacteristically though, he miscontrols it and allows César to nick it away and fire straight at Lenogue, who can't react in time and can only let the ball smack his arm on the way into the net. 3-1. I knew it, he's bloody daydreaming. We go close soon after when Aidir holds the ball up and rolls it to Joël. The Ivorian slips Sissako through on goal but he drags his shot just wide.

With 20 minutes to go, Casimiro's lacklustre throw in is cut out by Zoun on the left, who immediately turns and makes a beeline for the box. He lays the ball off for Joël who shoots, but the ball cannons off the post and is cleared for a throw on the right. Samba takes it quickly, throwing the ball to Foden, who passes inside for Aidir. Aidir turns, draws back his trusty left peg and fires past Delle. I can't help laughing. That sums him up: Willing to make a perfect hat trick imperfect for just one more goal. I can't complain though and the Auxerre fans certainly don't mind. They sing his name in unison, which reverberates all around the stadium.

And then 2 things happen: Firstly, Castro floats a great cross to the far post and Obiang heads just inches wide, but then Crouchie gestures me over once again. And he's not smiling. I look at him for a moment, frozen on the spot, and his face says it all. Bourg are winning. We're 2nd. The news quickly filters through the crowd and their jovial singing dies away. A small section begins to sing Brahim Ferhat's name, but just seconds later my assistant summons me again: "Ferhat's subbed, boss. It's not looking good."

It's just not fucking fair. This performance deserves to be the one that wins the title, not scraping a win against the league's bottom team. Although that is how we secured promotion, but that's not the point. Happy with Aidir's day's work I give Ayé a run out for the last 10 minutes, but I'm not sure why. It doesn't seem like anything we do from this point matters. We're 4-1 ahead but no amount of goals will be enough to climb above Bourg. We could even concede for all the difference it makes, in fact we do when Paulo César hits the post and taps in the rebound, but the goal's ruled out for offside, presumably against the 2 lads that were stood on the far post not really interfering with play as the ball crossed the line. They go close again a minute later when Obiang slips Ikaunieks through, but he just misses to the left.

It's the crowd that let me know first. A few isolated screams of delight from somewhere in the masses. I don't think anything of them until more start joining in, or until Crouchie calls me over again, his face deadpan. "What? What's happening?" I ask desperately. His face cracks into a wide smile.

"Monfray's scored for USBCO. We're top of the fucking league."

The matches end. It's done. We've won it. Maybe we shouldn't have, but we have. Auxerre are the bloody Ligue 2 Champions.

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