Sunday, 15 February 2015

USL Dunkerque 3 v 1 SAS Épinal

Friday 13th February 2015
French Championnat National
Stade Marcel Tribut, Dunkirk
Admission: €6.00
Programme: Free
Attendance: 600
Match Rating: 4

Being in the middle of a short break between jobs, I took the rare opportunity to take in some Friday night football in northern France, for my second taste of continental football within a week.

The Stade Marcel Tribut is located about a ten minute walk from Dunkirk town centre, and conveniently has plenty of free parking opposite the stadium. Inside the stadium, one finds that all of the spectator accommodation is along both lengths. The stand from where I chose to watch the game consists of uncovered terrace steps to the front, and covered steps to sit on (uncomfortably) to the rear, and this is a large stand with an interesting roof design of steps rising to the middle. On the opposite length is more comfortable looking seating, albeit with a few narrow obstructing pillars, and with some boxes above the seating. Behind one of the goals is a small terrace area which, despite appearing on good condition, is out of bounds, and a basic electronic scoreboard is positioned above this terrace. Behind the remaining goal, also inaccessible to spectators, a sports hall and a house provide the backdrop. Although a running track is present, its quite attractive coloured in blue and is not too wide thereby not causing spectators to be too distant from the action. All in all, it's a nice enough stadium which, whilst limited in facilities, could do with some sprucing up and a lick of paint, has some nice individuality and character. Surprisingly for a French game, programmes were available and distributed free of charge on entry, an eight page glossy A4 sized publication, attractively designed and contained a welcome message, introduction to the visiting team, and stats of the home team and league standings.

In the third tier of the French football pyramid, this game certainly had the look of a home banker. Dunkerque went into this game in eighth place, with 27 points from 19 games, whilst visitors Épinal, newly promoted to this level, look favourites to straight back down to the Championnat de France Amateur, bottom of the table with ten points from 18 games, with one win in the league all season, that win coming in October, and are 11 points adrift of safety. When the two teams met in Lorraine in early September, Dunkerque won 1-3.

On a drizzly evening, the game, unusually for a French game, started with an upbeat tempo, end to end although Épinal looked vulnerable defensively and indeed they fell behind on four minutes. Fofana, whose pace was to prove a constant menace down the right wing all night, sent a low cross into the box and Abdelilah Aabiza hit the ball into the roof of the net from six yards. With such a bad record, one might have expected Épinal's heads to have dropped now, but they were rewarded for their continued enterprising play on 16 minutes. After a corner was cleared back to the taker, the ball was lofted into the danger area, and a header towards goal found an unmarked Theo Gazagnes, who poked the ball home from six yards. Disappointingly, the tempo seemed to drop after the goal, as the visitors held their own as Dunkerque lost their way somewhat, and the score remained level at the break.

The second half continued in the same vein, although Dunkerque thought they had retaken the lead on 56 minutes, when a ball chipped over the defence was headed past the keeper, but the goal was ruled out for offside. They did retake the lead on 75 minutes. Fofana showed good footwork once more to dribble to the byline, before crossing low to the near post, and Malik Tchokounté managed to flick the ball just over the line despite lying on the ground. That gave the home side fresh impetus as they looked as threatening as they had in the early stages. They gave themselves daylight on 79 minutes when they scored their third, Fofana again with the assist as he sent in a cross from the right wing to the far post, and Tchokounté volleyed the ball into the net. Dunkerque were given the chance to make the scoreline even more harsh on the visitors when they were awarded a penalty on 85 minutes, after Épinal keeper Olivier Robin tripped the striker as he went past. However, Robin pulled off a good save low to his left, and after Tchokounté went in hard to try to prod home the loose ball, an altercation between the two players ensued, somewhat surprisingly leading to red cards for both players, and defender Ludovic Michelot was forced to don the keeper's jersey for the remainder of the game. He was barely tested though, as Dunkerque cruised towards an (in the end) comfortable win, which lifts them to sixth place in the table. Épinal looked a better team than their league position suggests, although they do look very vulnerable defensively, and perhaps were made to look better by a Dunkerque side that lost its way for the middle hour of the game. Whilst it was a shame that the attendance was very low for this game, considering it was a third tier game, mention should be mentioned of the great support provided, with the chanting and drum banging hardly ceasing all game. Proof that a good atmosphere does not necessarily need a big crowd.

Video highlights of this match can be found here

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