Preview: Saint-Malo vs GFC Ajaccio – Coupe de France
As we get towards the business end of the tournament, just one round from the quarter finals, there still remains an impressive contingent from the 4th and 5th tiers. One of those is Saint-Malo who have had a strong run so far and now come up against top-flight opposition in the shape of Gazelec Ajaccio.
After seeing off sides from Ligue 2 and National, the men from the picturesque coastal town in Brittany now get the chance to test their mettle against Ligue 1 opposition. Of all the sides left from the top division, Gazelec Ajaccio represent as good a chance as any for les Diables Noirs to spring another surprise and make it to the quarter finals. Saint-Malo are in excellent league form, having remained undefeated since the end of October. They are currently enjoying a run of four straight wins that has seen them rise to 6th in the Group D table and have only conceded two goals in that run. In terms of players to look out for, the danger man will once again be Abou Maiga who has scored some crucial goals to get them this far. Thomas Lahaye and Kevin Simon form a strong central defensive pairing alongside former Rennes academy product Kevin Beauverger. Creativity comes from Remy Jous and Steven Creach in midfield.
Secondly, Saint-Malo are going to have bigger support than normal. To accommodate ticket demand, the club President sought to move the game to a bigger capacity ground. With Roazhon Park closest but deemed too big to fill, it was decided that the tie would be played in Guingamp at the Stade du Roudourou. Over 3,000 tickets have been sold and on Tuesday over 30 coaches will ferry the fans the 90-minute journey west.
Another reason Saint-Malo won’t be quite as daunted as they should be considering the 47 places that separate the sides, is that since the turn of the year Gazelec have been on a pretty dreadful run of form. Three draws and three defeats in the league has undone a lot of the good work that they put in during their nine-game unbeaten run before the winter break. They now sit just one point above the drop zone after another disappointing performance at the weekend. Against a Guingamp side who were reduced to 10 men after only eight minutes, Gazelec struggled to break them down. Whilst they managed 17 shots, the fact that only two were on target speaks for itself.
Since the return from the winter break, they seem to have just lost that spark that saw them climb to a scarcely believable 12th place in the league. Their defence, which was so organised and disciplined during that good run of form, is now conceding sloppy goals. A total of seven were conceded in the defeats to Montpellier and Nantes, who are hardly blessed with the most prolific of attacks. A hat-trick from Khalid Boutaib against Guingamp in the previous round has been their sole piece of good news in 2016. Veteran Jeremie Brechet is expected to come back into the heart of the defence and Brest native Alexandre Coeff could also see a return to the side. With John Tshibumbu nursing a cracked rib following his altercation with Lionel Mathis at the weekend, the onus will be on Boutaib to repeat his heroics from the previous round.
Whilst both sides are at polar opposites in terms of current form, it would still be a big shock for Saint-Malo to pull off the win. However, after seeing how professional some of their earlier performances have been against higher ranked opposition, they will come into this game with the same mindset. Gazelec will need to hope that their league form is only a blip and, with the cup proving to be a welcome distraction of late, this should be a very close, hard fought game. Definitely one to watch for those seeking a cupset.