AS ROYAT v 1st XI
9th OCTOBER 2011
Just for a change this weekend following my efforts on Saturday night for the Aigueperse match and earlier this afternoon at St Angel I arrive in Royat in plenty of time and as the stadium is easy to spot from the road in, I have plenty of time to have a look around the ground.
First thing that I notice is that we seem to be playing in the middle of a volcanic crater - not that this should be any surprise as there at least 80 volcanoes in the immediate vicinity and not all of them are extinct either. Who said that living in the Puy-de-Dome is devoid of excitement?
The volcanic crater rim seems to have collapsed on the south-eastern side and there's a good view overlooking the town. Or at least there would be if it would stop raining and these hanging clouds would sod off.
It's certainly a really nice setting for a football ground, isn't it? And it would be beautiful here in the summer or when the sun is shining. It's hard to believe, looking at today's dreary weather, that just seven days ago the match had to be halted midway between each half for drinks to be brought to the players.
I made enquiries of the locals and it appears that the team was in Division One last season and finished mid-table. There has therefore been some changes of make-up of the pools in Division One what with promotions, relegations and breaking up of contentious rivalries, and that's why Royat is a new team to Pionsat.
It's nice to see Jerome back in the side today after his recent injury as he injects a lot of pace and energy into the team.
Early in the game he bursts through the defence and rides three or four rather desperate tackles, but is rather rushed in his shot, which he putsjust wide of the upright. He didn't notice Matthieu who was lurking just wide of him and who might well have been in a better position. The Pionsat players need to talk to each other more when they are on the field.
First strike though goes to Royat, who take the lead early on in the first half. It stems from a typical Pionsat moment of indecision in defence, in the left-back position. The defence hesitates to clear the ball upfield and possession is won by one of the Royat forwards.
He plays the ball to the centre of the penalty area where there's a player unmarked about 10 yards out from goal, with the rest of the defenders pulled out of position. He has a simple job of side-footing the ball into the net
From here the Pionsat attack mounts a spell of sustained pressure on the Royat defence but they can't keep it up and soon fall further behind
The Pionsat defence concedes a free kick about halfway down the Pionsat left side of defence. One of the Royat midfielders takes the kick and pumps a high ball right across the penalty area.
One of their forwards down by the far post is the first to rise to the ball and he puts a clean header into the net past François, without too much of a challenge from the defenders.
The irony of all of this is that the defence has a much better shape today with Alex Nouveau playing at centre-half. He's the kind of player who will clear the ball out of defence with no nonsense and no messing about, and he will muscle his way in and push opposing attackers off the ball and everything like that, as he has done a few times already in this match. if he were 3 inches taller he could well offer an alternative solution to Pionsat's central defensive problems.
He's also not averse to giving his opinions of the match to the various referees that he encounters, and letting the refs know exactly what he thinks of some of their decisions. It would be quite a useful idea for him to use the same attitude, and also the same volume, when discussing similar matters with his fellow defenders. The silence that comes out of the defence, and off the bench too, when Pionsat's defenders are coming under the cosh is deafening. Someone needs to be taking charge back there, and I've been saying that for a while.
Later on in the half Pionsat pull a goal back. It stems from a huge long kick out of goal by François. Cedric heads it on and the ball reaches Matthieu on the right wing. He crosses the ball right into the centre and three or four players dive onto it.
One of them (Nico as I found out later) gets a foot to it first and steers it into the net for Pionsat to pull themselves back into the game.
Good honest route one football that and it's nice to see it as well, despite the derision that this kind of play receives from some quarters. An "alehouse ball", as I have heard it called in some quarters. But as we have seen on occasions too numerous to count, playing around with the ball out of defence at this level of football leads to a disaster more often than not. A good long kick-out by the keeper puts the opposing defence under immediate pressure.
Royat nearly restore their advantage almost straight away. It stems from a good ball down the middle that two of Pionsat's defenders miss, and uncharacteristically too for today so far.
This puts one of their attackers clean through on goal, but there's a brave dive from François right at the feet of the attacker and he just manages to get enough to the ball to knock it wide of the post for a corner.
It's a good job that the half-time whistle went just after this because I went to say hello to François as he walked off the field and he looked rather glassy-eyed. And no surprise either. It was quite a whack that he took. Mind you, it does prove my point from last night about the keeper having the upper hand in a one-on-one situation if he keeps his head (and the opposing forward doesn't try to remove it with his boot).
Right from the start of the second half of the match Pionsat almost produce the equaliser.
They win a throw-in and the ball is thrown long down the left wing to where Gaëtan has taken upan excellent position. He drives a good ball right across the face of goal that no-one in the goalmouth can intercept, and Nico coming sliding in at the far post just can't quite get to it. He couldn't have been more than half an inch away from that.
Despite having changed the team around and brought on all three substitutes at half time, nothing has been done about the left side of defence and it's no surprise that Royat score a third goal from over there in that position.
One of their midfield players goes on a foray down that position and a couple of ineffective tackles down there don't seem to trouble him too much and his fierce shot from the edge of the penalty area ends up in the back of the Pionsat net with nothing much that the defenders were able to do about it. This is a real shame because up until now Pionsat have been dragging themselves back into the game.
I really don't understand these substitutions, though. Gregory has always as far as I can remember played down the left flank either at left back or left midfield and has done a pretty effective job there in the past. Today, though, he has spent all of the first half on the bench. He's finally made it onto the field but is playing at right-back when the right flank wasn't under all that much pressure and when it was the left flank that needed shoring up. All of Royat's goals have come from down the left side of Pionsat's defence and nothing has been changed to try to prevent it.
But Pionsat manage to score a second goal a little later to take the pressure off the defence and to shut me up from moaning. It's a beautiful high ball into the box from a free kick about halfway inside the Royat half. One of the Pionsat attackers - and I couldn't see who it was - got up there first and put enough on the ball to loop it over the keeper's outstretched arms and into the net.
This provokes a flurry of activity from the Pionsat bench and we adopt a more attacking line-up to try to pull back the equaliser, but there's still nothing being done about this left flank.
But before we move away from this particular action, here is the panoramic view of the photo from which the above action shot has been cut. You can see immediately what is the problem with the Pionsat side today.
Apart from the fact that it looks like the team is playing Crystal Palace, I count 5 Royat defenders and their goalkeeper in the photograph, and just one Pionsat forward. And this is from a free kick, remember, where there is time for the attacking team to position its forwards where and how it pleases. They are just not quick enough over the final 18 yards of the field today.
There's an incident shortly after this that I didn't photograph, but it is well-worth reporting just the same because it just goes to show that some of the Pionsat players do read my notes occasionally.
I've talked at length about goalkeeping, and having been third-choice goalkeeper for my House at school back in the early 1970s, you can see that I have all the credentials to be able to give keen and sound advice to players who are playing in goal week after week at this level of footballers.
Anyway, one thing I have noticed on occasions too numerous to record is that when a keeper runs out of his area for a loose ball and wins it in the face of a couple of attackers, he has a tendency to whack it upfield as hard as he can. Now a keeper on the run is not the most accurate of kickers, and we have seen numerous occasions of the ball whacking into the opposing forwards and rebounding back into danger with, of course, the keeper now isolated upfield. There was one of these earlier on in the match from the Royat keeper. We've also seen, on a couple of occasions, balls rebound into the net for an unexpected goal as well.
Today, though, François runs out of his area for a loose ball with a couple of Royat players charging down on him, and he merely sidefoots the ball into touch for a throw-in. Of course, while they are retrieving the ball, his defenders have time to get back into position covering the attackers. Good, sound play by François there, and other keepers should take note of that.
This new attacking formation of Pionsat goes forward looking for the equaliser and they win a corner after some desperate Royat defending.
Pierre puts a beautiful high ball into the area right across to the far post and Jojo gets up to it and heads it back across goal. Gaëtan running back aross the goalmouth drives the ball in on goal but unfortunately it goes just wide of the post.
But three attacking players forward marked by six defenders and the keeper, and that tells its own story
Right at the end of the game Royat almost score a fourth goal. We have a diagonal ball across from the left side of the Pionsat defence to the right hand side of the box, and some good defending from one of the Pionsat players hustles and bustles the attacker without giving away a penalty, which is a fortunate thing in itself.
The attacker finally manages to find himself half an inch of space to put in a shot but he's well off-balance and his ball ends up being neither one thing or another and François doesn't have much difficulty in grabbing hold of it and hanging on.
So there we are - a weekend where the only team not to win its match is the First XI and how often has that ever happened?
There was a great deal of stress and tension during this match, as well as a good deal of argument in the last 5 minutes. All of this is good for the soul and made for an exciting match. Pierre will naturally agree about the tension and argument bit, having received a yellow card from the referee for expressing his displeasure rather too forcefully, and how Vianney did not follow him into the referee's notebook will always remain a mystery to me - having been spoken to at length for kicking the ball away and then doing exactly the same thing not even 30 seconds later.
The period of about 10 minutes when Pionsat were 2-1 down and going forward impressively had the match nicely balanced on a knife-edge and there was always a feeling that the next goal would decide the match. It was rather ironic that Royat would score after all of the pressure that Pionsat was heaping on their defence - but it isn't really, is it? Followers of Pionsat should be used to this by now.
Having said that, for all of their conceding three goals, for once the defence looked much better and much more organised today. We even had a solid and consistent shape throughout the match and they seemed to have much more of an idea today about what it was that they were supposed to be doing.
Just for a change, we had not one single incident of the Pionsat defence stepping up to claim offside and getting the timing wrong, leaving the attackers with a free run on goal, something that happens with monotonous regularity when there is a different central defence. It might have been Alex who contributed to that and he gets my vote as man-of-the-weekend for his no-nonsense defending today.
If they had shored up the left flank early in the game they may well have snuffed out much of the Royat attack which apart from the breaks down their right flank - Pionsat's left - was pretty ineffective and lacking in ideas.
Just for another change, it was the attack that misfired today. Cedric and Jerome never really looked like they were going to make the difference this afternoon. They worked really hard, won a few good balls and looked quite impressive as far as 18 yards out but it all fell away on the edge of the box. Everyone can have an off-day every now and again and no-one can be blamed for that but it is just unfortunate when both of your strikers are off-colour together.
I've seen Pionsat's midfield and attack play so much better than this and I will do again, and I would like to see the defence play as well as this again, but with Gregory on the left flank. That was a major tactical error and the trainer must clearly be aware of something that has escaped my notice. Pionsat should really have dealt with this side without too much effort and this is definitely three points thrown away today.
It all reminds me of the group of flies playing football in a saucer. One of them says to the others
"we'll have to do better than this - we're playing in the cup next week"
as indeed the 1st XI are - and against the 1st XI of Nord Combraille as well.
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