Mid-table Red Star host bottom team Niort FC on a Friday evening kick-off. While the hosts have found their momentum again, Niort are sinking slowly.
The last of the summer sun has not yet disappeared and Red Star finally got their season on the way. After 2 draws and as many defeats in their opening matches to the season, their performance improved significantly winning twice, one crucial away win at Ajaccio two weeks ago meant that the dead lock was broken. They are now four matches unbeaten, a trend that they would like to extend against bottom team from Niort. Their record reads 3 defeats and 5 draws and clearly demonstrates that they need to address some serious issues as otherwise they’ll be relegated before Christmas.
However, as easy as it may look on paper, a game against opposition lower in the table is not won before the final whistle and it would be foolish by Red Star to underestimate the visitors. The hosts had their problems on opening day with Auxerre and managed only a draw away againt Le Havre. These are no outstanding teams but rather average teams in this division. Last season Red Star finished close behind the promotion spots and if anything is to go by this season should be similar.
Regardless how both teams fared before kick-off, it was Niort who got off to a better start to the game. They kept the ball and made the hosts chase them. However, bit by bit Red Star loosened the grip Niort had on the game and moved forwards. They were largely toothless. After 30 minutes they had one corner and one shot on target. Unlike Niort who already had 3 corners. Though none of them was in any way promising a shot on target. Only the support of Red Star managed to create an atmosphere that resembled a football match.
The first time Red Star came close was in the 33rd minute when a succession of quick passes found them in front of goal. Alas, the finish was easy prey for the keeper. Shortly after the Niort defence was turned again and Mhirsi had free view on goal. His shot though was blocked by a defender that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. He felt the full force of the shot and for a second everyone held their breath as he was gathering himself. The match continued as there was no problem.
It was an altogether eventless first half of football during which neither team really convinced. Red Star may have had the better chances but likewise Niort never hid away and had more of the ball. Their play looked pleasantly fluid while Red Star appeared a little bit tired.
Without any change the second half begun and it was the same as the previous 45 minutes. It could have gone on for another couple of days without anything happening. But then something happened. A goal out of nowhere. Niort were given a free kick after a rash challenge on the left side. Out of a hundred times the ball from this distance – about 35m – would never get anywhere near the goal, let alone would this cross be converted. It was exactly what happened. Out of nowhere Choplin jumped higher than his nearest defender and left the Red Star keeper no chance. This was just the wake-up call Red Star needed and indeed they upped the ante but it was not rewarded because too often they were too hectic and saw themselves confronted with many legs in defence. They did come close, very close indeed when a free kick by Bouazza hit the post. With 18 minutes to go the same player’s shot was easily saved by the keeper as it was aimed straight at him. You could not say they were not trying, alas luck was evading them. At the same time Niort still created space to counter yet were wasteful just as their opponent. On the other side there was no way for Red Star to get through on a quick counter attack. One wondered what they were thinking or if they thought anything at all. The substitutions did not work.
At the end Niort deserved those three points that were crucial for them. Red Star simply were not able to raise their game and make a concerted effort to secure a point. It does not get easier for them as an away game against Lens will be their next task.