Sochaux Relegated After Final-Day Defeat Against Evian

Owen MorganContributor IMay 19, 2014

Paris Saint Germain's Edinson Roberto Cavani, second right, celebrates after he scored a goal against Sochaux during their French League One soccer match in Sochaux, eastern France, Sunday, April 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
Laurent Cipriani/Associated Press

FC Sochaux-Montbeliard have been relegated from Ligue 1.

After a dismal start to the season, relegation looked a certainty. Then came a stirring revival, inspired by former Zambia manager Herve Renard, which saw the club take their fight for survival to the final day.

Sadly for Les Lionceaux fans, the great escape was not to be. In a winner-takes-all encounter, Evian triumphed 3-0 to send Sochaux down to Ligue 2.

Despite the loss, Sochaux end their 66-year stint in France's top division with their heads held high; in the last few weeks they have performed superbly and leave Ligue 1 with their pride restored.

After Sochaux's disastrous start to the campaign, few could have predicted the squad was capable of such a gutsy fightback. With half the season gone, Les Lionceaux had recorded just two wins. They languished six points from safety with the worst goal difference in the league (-24).

Away from home, they had only picked up a solitary point, while at Stade Auguste Bonal, they had only managed to find the net eight times.

Herve Renard, the coach who masterminded Zambia's Africa Cup of Nations triumph in 2012, joined the club in October yet took a while to find his feet in his first job in one of Europe's top divisions.

Renard's influence was seen in the January transfer window, as two key players from Zambia's winning squad joined the club. Striker Emmanuel Mayuka arrived on loan from Southampton, while Stoppila Sunzu, who scored the winning penalty in the 2012 final, was brought in from Congolese side TP Mazembe.

Another important arrival was Jordan Ayew. The forward, who had fallen out of favour at Marseille, injected Sochaux with pace and trickery on the flanks, scoring five goals as the club gradually narrowed the gap between themselves and safety.

With 10 games to go, Sochaux were still stranded deep in the relegation mire. Eight points from safety and with tough games to come, including against champions-elect PSG, any chance of survival seemed impossible.

In fact, it was at this point that something clicked in the Sochaux side. From week 31 to week 37 of the season, Renard's men strung together an incredible unbeaten run.

This sequence included a battling draw against PSG, not to mention a hard-fought victory away at Rennes. Stade de la Route de Lorient is a notoriously tough place to go, yet Sochaux scored twice to record a vital 2-1 win, with Mayuka grabbing the winner in the final stages.

So, to the final day, and a winner-takes-all match against Evian. Pascal Dupraz's side had hovered above the relegation zone all season, and defeat to Sochaux would see the sides swap places. It may have been improbable a few months ago, but Sochaux's destiny was finally in their own hands.

In the end, however, it proved one step too far for Sochaux's courageous squad. Renard only used a small group of players in the final games of the season, as the winning momentum invigorated the side, but on this final day, victory deserted them.

Les Roses, inspired by the brilliant Daniel Wass, ran out comfortable winners. The young Dane opened the scoring in the eighth minute with a stunning overhead kick and netted a third late on. It was also from his corner that Evian scored their vital second goal just before half-time. 

Ayew struck a post before the break, but in truth, Sochaux never looked like turning the match around, and the final whistle brought with it the death-knell of relegation.

However, despite the drop, Les Lionceaux deserve praise for their tremendous tenacity and belief in fighting on until the final day. 

Herve Renard has since departed the club, but his tenure, although ultimately unsuccessful, will be remembered.

So near and yet so far, Sochaux came desperately close to pulling off one of the all-time great efforts to beat the drop. They will be down in Ligue 2 next season and will be greatly missed from France's top division.