They almost did it. FC Sochaux-Montbéliard, a staple of French football, were finally relegated after losing on the final day of the season. It was almost a miracle story, one that would be remembered for years to come but they couldn’t quite manage the greatest of escapes.
They couldn’t have got off to a worse start, Sochaux lost their first seven games of the season which led to the sacking of Éric Hély in September. In came Hervé Renard, the man who managed to win the African Cup of Nations in 2012 with the unfancied hosts Zambia, could he be the one to save them from relegation and work his magic a second time?
It didn’t work from the off, the club continued to struggle on and they went into the winter break with just 11 points. All signs pointed to the team going down, their best player Sebastian Corchia was sold and the team looked out of ideas even with only half a season gone.
But then, they had a transfer window like no other, both in its luck and its absurdity. In came Yohann Pelé, a goalkeeper that hadn’t played a competitive game in three years, to replace struggling youngster Pierrick Cros. They also brought Jordan Ayew on loan from Marseille to provide an extra goal-threat they so desperately needed and whilst that was a slight surprise, the best was yet to come.
Corchia, who had been sold during the window to Lille, returned to the club because of an error in the signing of him that meant he wasn’t registered with his new club. It was an incredible stroke of luck, they had a quality player for another half of the season and he was determined to just play football knowing he’d only be there for the last half of the season.
From the end of January, they started picking up the wins they needed to get back into the fight for safety in Ligue 1. They pulled off wins against the mid-table sides they were getting beat by earlier in the season and even earned valuable draws against Paris St Germain and Marseille, which were in part of a seven-game unbeaten run.
Heading into their final game of the season, they were just two points off 17th placed Evian who they would play at Stade Auguste Bonal to see who would keep their status as a top-flight French football club. They had all the momentum behind them, Evian had stalled dramatically over the second half of the season and there was a real feeling that they could really do it.
In the end, they couldn’t jump the final hurdle. A 3-0 loss on that final day sealed their fate, an inspired performance from Evian’s Daniel Wass condemned the Lion Cubs to Ligue 2. It was heart-breaking for the fans, players and Renard, they had done everything they could to stave off relegation but one last win was a bridge too far.
It would have been one of the greatest football stories in modern history but sometimes stories don’t end in the way everyone would like to. Had the season started in January, Sochaux would have finished 7th which shows just how good their turnaround was. Some will be back in Ligue 1 next season with different clubs but hopefully it won’t be too long before we see this proud club back in the top flight.