A relegation battle in the French second division on a Tuesday night: Valenciennes hosted Nancy in early February to hoist themselves up from the relegation zone. The first half provided a spectacle while the second was rather low-key.
Approaching the ground from the tram, the thin throng of people grew thicker the closer the grail came. Inside it resembled indeed a grail as red is the predominant colour. Ahead of the 2000 or so in the stands lay a relegation battle between 18th placed Valenciennes and bottom placed AS Nancy Lorraine. Either side needed a win to get above the line (Valenciennes) or to minimize the gap towards rescue (Nancy). Thus was the omen for a scrappy game of soccer. The initial ten minutes were indeed just as excepted: a drab relegation battle. The hope for a passing sequence of more than three players was in vain. The first half chance fell to the visitors but it were the hosts who somehow got turned on by this alarm call and suddenly surged forward and scored from the first real chance of the game: Yatabare cooly converted.
A goal fest
What followed must have been the best first half of the season for Valenciennes as only six minutes later they managed to double their lead. A free kick from the left wing, almost near the corner flag hit the post from where it rebounded to Yakabare who had no difficulties to add to his goal tally. At this point it was clear that Nancy really needed to up their game if they wanted something from the match. Their effort backfired, mostly since they weakened themselves as Karamoko was sent off with a second yellow within just five minutes. The second foul was inside the penalty area, thus gave the home side the chance to increase their lead from the spot. And so Joffrey Cuffaut did. It was game over for Nancy though not for the Swans, i.e. Valenciennes.
I’ve never had to announce so many goals in one game!
Thrice more the stadium announcer was requested to announce a new score. She had to begin with Nancy who in a moment of rare enlightenment found plenty of space on the left wing, where their number 11, Rosario Latouchent surged forward and created the chance for Mikael Biron who had no problems to shorten the deficit. Only briefly Nancy’s glimmer was alive as four minutes later, with 31 minutes gone Baptiste Guillaume restored the difference. As if this was not enough, the same player created the fifth of the day for his team and Ilyes Hamache completed the handful. The lady on the mic was audibly excited to be able to announce this many goals in one game, let alone in one half. It is a sign how desperate Valenciennes are to get out of trouble. Since between the 31st and the 44the minutes lay thirteen minutes, the punters grew impatient around the 40 minute mark and demanded “it’s been a long while since the last goal”. Well, they had not to wait long.
Bizarrely, the referee ordered for half time one the stroke 45 minutes, not a second longer despite their having been a send-off and six, SIX goals! This he repeated at full-time. The clock struck 90 and the match official decided to call it a day.
To AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells the players returned onto the pitch.
The Swans cooly gliding home
As is often the case, games that bring a spectacle during the first half are a lot different in the ensuing half. This was the case here, too. Yet, Valenciennes almost made it six within five minutes of the re-start as Manuel Ntim found some space at the edge of the six yard box, turned quickly and smashed the ball towards goals, only to hit the cross bar. It was a great beginning to the second half. The wait did not last much longer and again Guillaume scored, his second of the night, after 50 minutes.
A few minutes later Joffrey Cuffaut tested the stability of a seat behind the goal as his shot flew over the bar and smashed into the seat and broke it. The crowd cheered. The best move came just minutes later and is one of those “what-if”-moments. A cross from the left wing flew towards the far post. The ball was airborne for some considerable time. Guillaume connected and headed back towards the penalty spot. It was there, where the ball fell into a gaping hole: neither friend nor foe was there to either clear the ball or get a shot on goal. For the home team to have someone sneak in and attempt a shot on target would have been the icing on the cake. Alas, it was not to be and is somewhat allegorical for Valenciennes and their season so far.
After that it was a dead rubber; many substitutions disrupted the flow of the game and to be fair the first half has been the highlight of the evening. Valenciennes administered the result and were hardly hassled doing so while Nancy had not yet given up but simply had no means to create something here.
Just before the end Valenciennes really could have added a seventh but squandered the opportunity irresponsibly. Again a parable of their season. Wastefulness will be punished by most teams. And thus an entertaining game of football with two very different halves concluded, resulting in a thumping victory for the home side who almost halved their goal difference. This may be crucial in the decisive moments at the end of season. It was their biggest win of the season and perhaps in a long time. It should give them sufficient confidence for the remaining sixteen games.image credit: Supporterhéninois, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
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