The season in France’s second division is fast approaching the final straight and Valenciennes find themselves hovering just above the relegation zone after their draw against Dijon the last weekend. The opposition today, SM Caen, come with the confidence of having thoroughly beaten the division’s high flyers Toulouse FC 4-1 and three wins from their last five matches. This is something Valenciennes hope to achieve somehow as their stats read: played five, drawn three, won one, lost one. That in itself is not too bad at all but carries no guarantee for security, i.e. remaining in Ligue 2 at the end of the season. Given that Dijon are also in the quagmire gives little reason to be overly cheerful, yet hope shall never be discounted.
A rant to start with
Before any action was seen however, the bottleneck of the entrance had to be passed. Here, the club shot themselves in the foot by inviting half the town with free tickets and yet manning the according section only for a small attendance. Even the security shook their heads. Anyway, six minutes only have passed, followed by another six that were relatively eventless, with either team trying to organize their set-ups. It was apparent from these few minutes that Caen were better equipped in almost every department: technique, vision, speed and precision. It is with some surprise to see them as far down the table as they are.
With much fuss, the visitors knew how to make the best of their capabilities and scored with less than 15 minutes gone. In midfield, the Caen No. 8, Jessy Deminguet had too much time to lift his head, look and pass wide to the right wing. The cross was near perfect and was easily converted by Nuno da Costa. So far, this game had been a lull and without much fuss, Caen turned it on and caught Valenciennes unaware. Moreover, within minutes, they could have scored another. Had they, scored though, it would have been game over.
Instead Valenciennes ploughed the green on the Stade du Hainault to their best abilities, fought, stumbled and got back up. Their reward came after 24 minutes when a corner from the left found Emmanuel N’tim whose header made the net bulge and the stadium erupt. The few thousands, largely young people made themselves heard and clearly enjoyed their late night out.
The game now largely happened between the penalty areas as both teams cancelled each other. The away section made some noise – a group of thirty witty Normans. It beggars belief that the away sections still resemble cages in French football grounds. How much do clubs actually fear away fans?
The second half continued without many chances – it was more an administering than with some tentative attempts at going forward. There was a little fracas on the hour mark as tow players went down wrestling and had to be separated by their team mates. Luckily, both stayed on but Valenciennes took the precautionary measure to take Yatabare off to avoid a possible second yellow. Inconspicuous as he appears, he is a player with grit and determination and his tackles are hard but largely fair. Jointly with Mohamed Kara he heckled opposition players off the ball. Alas, as has already been stated, the passing was poor. Add-in technical limitations or faults to complete the picture of Valenciennes.
The excitement ebbed away the longer the match went on. The only talking point was a projectile that was thrown onto the pitch and which led the announcer to throw out a warning: any repetition may result in the match being interrupted or worse abandoned. In one corner of the upper tier a large group of youths created a counterweight to the Kop by using the advertisement hoardings as drums. This minor appearance of disorder was disallowed by security which was a rather heavy handed approach to this situation instead of letting the kids having some fun.
Towards the end it was Valenciennes once more who had a number of good opportunities but for their lack of ability nothing came of it.
The game had four minutes of added time which beggared belief as there were only substitutions. This crowd should have been in the ground a few weeks ago when Valenciennes beat Nancy 6-1. Who knows the atmosphere then would have been cracking, some kids would have been turned into fans. Instead those on a free ticket got ordinary French second division football between two teams from the lower half of the table.
On the positive side, Valenciennes are now five games unbeaten, though only one win out of those games. Next stop will be Dunkerque who are 19th but only three points behind Valenciennes in 15th. This will not be easy. Then come Amiens followed by a road trip to Auxerre, who are third. Le Havre, Ajaccio and Paris FC – three teams from the top six until the end of April – that is some tough going for Swans who are looking for safety.