Sochaux’s great escape fails as curtain comes down


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In the end they had given themselves just too much to do.

Sochaux's recovery in the second half of the season had many in France hoping they could pull off the greatest of escapes when so recently all had seemed lost, but Hervé Renard's magic touch wore off on a dramatic final day.

Weeks ago, Renard had earmarked Sochaux's last-day meeting with Evian at the Stade Bonal as a 'final', a winner-takes-all showdown in the battle against relegation. The man in the white shirt had taken his side on a run of seven games without defeat prior to the weekend.

They had won six and drawn two of eight home matches as well, but were still a point adrift of Evian. Renard had been right all along. This was a match his side would have to win to avoid the dreaded drop.

The game had been sold out long in advance, and tickets were being sold on the black market for more than six times their face value.

Sochaux, one of the pioneers of professional football in France, had captured the imagination of fans nationwide who favoured them rather than the upstarts of Evian, a new club who had never appeared in Ligue 1 before 2011.

Few expected Sochaux's dream to be so devastatingly crushed, but Daniel Wass put Evian ahead inside eight minutes and the visitors never looked back. Wass ended up with a brace as Evian won 3-0 to stay up at their hosts' expense.

Sochaux will play in Ligue 2 next season for the first time since 2001. The Peugeot-backed club have spent a record 66 seasons in the top flight, but they will have to wait a while yet before their 67th. Evian, meanwhile, can look forward to a fourth season among the elite.

They have survived at the end of a turbulent campaign which has seen their main sponsors, the food multinational Danone, withdraw their backing. But they never deserved to go down. Indeed, apart from a week in August, they were not in the relegation zone at any point all season.

It was a hugely satisfying victory for their coach Pascal Dupraz in particular. He has devoted his coaching career to helping the club that is now Evian-Thonon-Gaillard rise through the divisions, and on Saturday he stood on the touchline sporting the red and white scarf of Croix-de-Savoie, as the club were known before being rebranded in 2009.

He also took great satisfaction in getting one over his opposite number - Renard recently called Dupraz a "nutcase". The two men both hail from the Savoy region and first clashed when in opposing dugouts in a third-division game in 2006.

Now Dupraz had grown irritated at Renard's constant claims that Saturday's meeting would be decisive. Last week, Dupraz hit back, saying: "He thinks he knows everything. But if he was so sure, he wouldn't be offering himself to Evian through his agents."

The two men were able to shake hands at full time, before Renard confirmed that he would indeed be leaving Sochaux. He can go with his head held high thanks to their form in 2014 - Sochaux would have been seventh, 11 points above the relegation zone, if the season had started in January.

"We have had an exceptional run, but it's not enough," he said. "We left ourselves with too much to do at the winter break. I know that Sochaux will be back."

Evian is unlikely to be his next destination, but he wants to stay in France. Last Wednesday, he met Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas in Paris to discuss the possibility of taking over from Rémi Garde at the Stade de Gerland. Perhaps news of that meeting unsettled the Sochaux players at the worst possible time.

It was a day of goodbyes across France, as Christian Gourcuff bowed out as Lorient coach after 25 seasons in charge and veteran goalkeeper Mickaël Landreau played what was his final club game - a record 618th in France's top flight - in Bastia's 0-0 home draw with Nantes. Ironically, his professional debut had come for Nantes in a 0-0 draw in Bastia in October 1996.

The coming summer will be one of change for many Ligue 1 clubs. Monaco, Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Lorient and Bastia will all have new coaches next season, and Saint-Etienne might struggle to keep hold of the excellent Christophe Galtier.

And if one famous old name will be in the second tier next season, Lens and Metz will be back in the top flight and will be welcome additions.

Andrew Scott | Follow on Twitter

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