Arithmetically, it could have been worse, considering that OL still has a 4-point lead over Nancy. At the same time, the Lorrains were held to a scoreless draw by Valenciennes, so OL lost only one point from their lead. Cold comfort.
But for all that, OL’s loss was particularly poor. Of course Wednesday’s match will pit them against a completely different kind of team, rendering irrelevant any analysis of OL’s defeat: Rangers manager Walter Smith would do well to throw away any notes he took as he watched OL’s loss from the stands of the Stade Michel d’Ornano, such will be the difference in the OL ranks when the two sides square off in Scotland. Still, a win would have put the Olympiens in the perfect frame of mind. Unfortunately, they will have to make do.
Against PSG, Franck Dumas’ players waited until the dying minutes to make the difference, making the most of a defensive error by Ceara. Against the champions of France, they owed their win to their unwavering desire, their strong start to the match and the class of striker Yohann Gouffran. From a Gomis cross, Toto Squillaci’s clearance fell onto the chest of Cleber Anderson before falling at the feet of Gouffran, who blasted past Vercoutre from close range (17’). This opener was just desserts for the Norman side, which had proven to be more determined and more concentrated than their visitors. After Cleber Anderson’s huge scoring opportunity with a header went begging (4’), Toto Squillaci was beaten by Gouffran, whose toe-poke grazed the outside of the post (6’); from a Nivet corner, Thiam fell short (7’); then Rémy Vercoutre punched away Deroin’s cross-cum-shot (12’). Playing in a hybrid formation against a super-motivated Caen side (OL knocked them out of the Coupe de la Ligue 1-3 on October 31), the Lyonnais found it hard to get into the match. Hatem Ben Arfa, from a free kick, was the first to give Caen keeper Vincent Planté a chance to shine (20’), followed by Kim Källström, whose shot Planté took two attempts to secure (25’). Then it was Kader Keita’s turn, with a powerful strike from distance, but the home keeper fisted clear with assurance (26’). Later, the Ivorian headed just over (40’).
Regrouping, waiting and then launching lightning counter attacks will most likely also be the tactics used by Rangers on Wednesday night, and were used to great effect by the Caennais. Gouffran hit his shot high over the bar (32’), Florentin grazed the woodwork (68’ and 78’) and Grondin fired straight at Vercoutre (88’). The other key ingredient to beating the Lyonnais: bending without breaking. And Caen pulled this off too, despite the triple substitution that saw Benzema, Govou and Juninho come on for Baros, Keita and Källström. Vincent Planté blocked two successive shots from Källström (50’), Toulalan (52’) and Govou, who had been released into space by Benzema (88’).
The Lyonnais have to put this loss behind them as quickly as possible and not give doubt any chance to creep in. Luckily four days isn’t long enough to dwell on such a defeat that will anyway quickly become just a memory should the Lyonnais win on Wednesday in what is effectively the most important match of the first half of the season…