ASSE out to build on cup progress
By I. Holyman
AS Saint-Etienne will hope their midweek Coupe de France success will serve as a launching pad for improved fortunes in Ligue 1 when they host struggling FC Lorient on Sunday.
AS Saint-Etienne - FC Lorient
Les Verts made cup progress on the Channel coast at Boulogne on Tuesday, but in keeping with their form of late, they did not make life easy for themselves. After requiring a late equaliser from Benjamin Corgnet after their third-tier hosts had gone in front, Saint-Etienne saw even their ever-dependable captain Loïc Perrin waver in the shoot-out as he missed his spot-kick. Fortunately for Christophe Galtier's side, goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier turned aside a Boulogne penalty to take his team through to the last four.
"That's the beauty of this Coupe de France. You know that the games will always be tough," said Corgnet, who comes up against a former side in Lorient this weekend. "Every team can cause a problem, even if they're from a lower league. It was a tricky match. We knew we perhaps weren't going to win in style. But the main thing was to qualify. It's great, it's these kinds of wins that will do us good ahead of the run-in. We wanted to play the semi-final, even if we're on a little bit of a sticky run in the league."
A winless series of seven league encounters has yet to fully undo the benefits of the 12-game unbeaten streak that preceded it with Galtier's side hanging on to fifth place in the table, just a point behind fourth-placed AS Monaco. They would have been ahead of the principality outfit, who have played a game less, but for Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro's superb late equaliser for Toulouse FC last weekend. Fortunately for Sainté, the four teams ahead of them in the table also failed to win.
"Just like a fortnight ago, the first six in the league didn't win. It's difficult for everyone," said Galtier, who did see Montpellier Hérault SC triumph to move ahead of Girondins de Bordeaux into sixth, just a point behind his own side. "We have to improve in terms of dominating games and we have to play the ball out from the back more cleanly."
If Saint-Etienne have work to do, then Lorient, who came into Week 28 a place and two points above the relegation zone, have significantly more room for improvement. The Breton club have lost just two of their last seven league fixtures, but Wednesday's 1-0 defeat at Evian-Thonon-Gaillard FC in their rearranged Week 26 fixture did significant damage to their morale and their ambitions of staying up.
"It's a huge disappointment not to have taken the points, because I think we should have done so," said Les Merlus' boss Sylvain Ripoll, whose club celebrate their 400th L1 game against the side that knocked them out of the Coupe de la Ligue earlier this season.
Ripoll: 'An important game'
"We lacked clarity and quality throughout the team. We complicated our play on a tricky surface, and we chased the game throughout the second half without finding a solution. Nonetheless, I see games like this one every weekend, and we can still pick up points. It was an important game, there will be many others."
Saint-Etienne: Ruffier; Théophile-Catherine, B. Karamoko, Perrin (c), Clerc; Lemoine, Clément; Hamouma, Corgnet, Gradel; Erding (or van Wolfswinkel)
FC Lorient: Lecomte; Pderinho, Bellugou, Lautoa (c), Legoff; Philippoteaux, Mesloub, D. Ndong, Geurreiro; Jeannot, J. Ayew