Saturday afternoon at Stade Bauer where Red Star played host to Stade Laval, in the top game of the division, the French National, the third tier of the league system. For the home team the chance to jump Grenoble in top spot. Likewise, Laval could leapfrog the teams ahead of them to get to the place in the sun.
Since being relegated, Red Star seem to have rediscovered their swagger and so far are unbeaten after five games. The previous week they were away at Grenoble and managed a 0-0. Laval on the other hand beat the other team from the Parisian region, US Creteil at home 2-0. All was set for a top game.
The game began with a cracker at the cross bar by he hosts. A minute later it was a set-back for Red Star as the visitors opened the scoring within eight minutes. Much to the disappointment of the 1700 or so present. One their players was down but neither the referee not Laval showed any intentions to stop the flow of the game. Naturally, Red Star slowed down which gave Pandor plenty of time to control the ball, take aim and finish low into the left hand corner from 6 metres. To add insult to injury the Laval players crowded and celebrated in front of the home Kop which infuriated those even further as the player was still down at kick-off. Red Star did not contest the decision and the excitement has passed quickly.
What followed was an encounter in which Red Star tried their best but often came second to many balls in midfield and had no presence. It took almost 25 minutes before Red Star really got their swagger back and played football that was enjoyable to watch. Just after the half hour mark, Mhirsi swung two lovely balls towards the top corner. On both occasions the keeper, Hautbois was awake and kept the ball out. An instant later the post saved Laval and another shot from Teuma went just over.
On the front foot Red Star went into the dressing room and emerged with the same disconnectedness for the second half. They found their momentum but it was not until the 67. minute that something of note happened. The hosts had a penalty awarded that was not disputable. The defender simply hacked the striker off his feet. The referee did not hesitate for a second. Sekou Keita converted cooly. Game on.
It was now a match that went predominantly into one direction: the goal of Laval. Alas, the ball would not go in. It was either stopped on the goal line or the post saved Hautbois in goal. Only once did Laval come close. On 80 minutes Renot in the Red Star goal was beaten and the post saved them. This occasion apart it Red Star who played but were thwarted time and again. Either by their own hectic or by the Laval defence. After five minutes of added time, the referee had enough and blew the final whistle.
For large parts this was not a game that offered a high quality football. Whether it was the occasion that prevented either side of putting on their best game or the pitch or this was simply their best, is irrelevant. This Red Star team will find the going tough should they manage to win direct promotion come May next year. The same has to be said for Laval. Neither team possess quality that convinces. It is a sign possibly that this year the National, France’s third division is very balanced; from top spot until 7. place all teams are on 12 points after seven matches. This adds suspense to the league and will keep the teams aiming for promotion on their toes.