It took newcomers Gazelec Ajaccio a while to find their feet in Ligue 1, however following a string of impressive results against formidable sides, there is evidence to suggest they could stick around this season.
Rock bottom in mid-October, many would have baulked at the suggestion that Gazelec could escape the relegation zone, let alone climb as high as they have done.
Following an opening day draw to ESTAC Troyes, they were pitted against giants Paris Saint-Germain.
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They only lost 2-0, but in truth, it could have been six or seven. Thoroughly outclassed by the champions, it looked like Ajaccio’s stay in Ligue 1 would be a brief one.
It proved the second match in a run of ten without a single win, of which seven were defeats. Unbeaten in their last 11 matches, they have slowly shimmied their way up the table.
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Having released nine players and signed eight in the summer– all for nothing, it would likely have taken a while for the new-look squad to gel. As soon as it did, they embarked on a run which has seen them on par with some of the league's better sides.
Turning things around
They finished the first half of the season on 24 points, and hit a critical juncture in doing so. They sat seven points from the relegation zone, but also seven points from third place Angers and the Champions League spot they currently occupy.
As meteoric as their rise has been, that may be too much too soon. But there is every chance the second half of the season will bear fruit. They have advanced to the last 16 of the Coupe de France, courtesy of the resurgent Khalid Boutaib, who scored a hat-trick in the last round against Guingamp.
Perhaps their most satisfying victory of the season came in the 2-1 away win over Bastia in the Corsican derby. But they have plenty of scalps to shout about.
Their last league win saw them overcome struggling Lyon, which proved the final nail in the coffin of manager Hubert Fournier. Mohamed Larbi scored twice in that match, and has been central to his side’s upturn in fortunes.
A Tunisian international, he is currently sitting on six goals for the season, just two off his total tally for Ligue 2 last season. Signed from Lucon while Gazalec were still in the third division, he has played his part in their rise up the divisions. And what a what a swift rise it has been.
Pundits’ pre-season underestimations of Thierry Laurey's side were somewhat warranted. Gazelec will be used to the unfavourable tag of relegation candidates. After all, they were heavily tipped for the drop after promotion to Ligue 2 last season.
Just two seasons ago, the top flight was nothing but a pipe dream, realised by consecutive promotions.
Given Angers exploits this season, their ascent has flown under the radar, but in truth their accomplishments are comparable, if not greater.
Angers are dirt poor in a league containing the financial muscle of Qatari-backed PSG, but even they seem relatively affluent when their playing budget is compared to that of Gazalec.
Having jumped two divisions in two seasons, they were forced to double the size of their stadium to 5000 to meet regulations.
Smaller clubs punching above their weight seems to be a theme in France this year, but no team seems to embody that gutsy fighting spirit quite like Gazalec.
Where will Gazalec finish this season? Give YOUR opinion in the comment box below!
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