Coupe de France 8emes – AJ Auxerre v Les Herbiers
Tucked into the early part of the schedule is one of the less glamorous ties of the round as Ligue 2’s Auxerre takes on third-tier Les Herbiers. Four-time winners Auxerre last lifted the trophy in 2005; Les Herbiers are through to the huitiemes for the first time in their history, after being knocked out by Guingamp – in extra-time – in the 16emes last season.
For Auxerre, a long run without a league win that stretched back to October has now been broken, as AJA have had a cheerful start to 2018, unbeaten and with 11 points from their five league matches, and qualifying for this stage with a 4-3 win away at Nantes. That match was a treasure-trove of cup action, featuring an early opener, an own goal, a red card, a big lead, an epic fightback, but the underdog managing to make it through.
AJA beat Tours 2-0 away on Friday which was hardly a surprise (Tours have nine points and are clearly doomed) by virtue of an own goal and a debut strike from defensive midfielder Brahim Konate. They have twelve scorers overall but nobody is prolific – Mohamed Yattara has seven in the league, Romain Philippoteaux ditto in all competitions – and their defence is middling. It was something of a surprise, therefore, when they were involved in that seven-goal thriller in the last round, away at Claudio Ranieri’s normally parsimonious Nantes. They sit dully mid-table, well clear of any danger, and presumably have little else to focus on, so should be well up for this.
Les Herbiers do have other concerns, like being in the relegation zone despite a good point away at fellow cup-botherers Concarneau on Friday, which ended 2-2 courtesy of top-scorer Ambroise Gboho (he has five in the league) and centre-back Guillaume Dequaire (we’re guessing towering header from a corner). They have the second-worst defence in the National and qualified for this with a narrow 2-1 win away at fifth-tier Saint-Lo in the last round – they also needed extra time to get the same score against another fifth-tier side, Angouleme, the round before.
This looks like a fairly routine situation for a stress-free Auxerre, therefore, who have had a difficult couple of years and will want to get back to something near the magic years of the 1990s and 2000s. They came close – so close – in 2015, reaching the final, only to lose 1-0 to PSG, the final that started the Parisiens’ current dominance. Their fans will be hoping that only spurs them on to have another tilt at the title.