Lyon miss chance to go top after a slap from ASSE

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Thanks to a shaven head and a tribal tattoo on his temple in homage to his idol, mixed martial artist Wanderlei Silva - aka the Axe Murderer - Saint-Étienne goalkeeper Jérémie Janot tends to look as if he is up for a fight.

But appearances can be deceiving. Janot just happens to be one of French football’s good guys. The 32-year-old is a one-club man and a particularly humble soul having never been considered Saint- Étienne’s No 1 in 14 years with Les Verts.

He wears the No 16 because, as one Saint-Étienne fan told the French Connection, that’s near enough the number of challengers the Frenchman has seen off during his time at the club. It’s little wonder that they call Janot the Executioner.

However, at the weekend, he was doing his level best to act like a hard man. Saint-Étienne travelled to Lyon on Saturday for what many still consider to be the original French derby.

Jérémie Janot - not an axe murderer...

Speaking to France Football last week, Janot said: “For me, Lyon are a beautiful machine that gravitates around football’s upper echelons and wins titles. But on an emotional level they are the enemy. The rivalry that exists between ASSE and OL is the purest and the toughest.”

In 10 matches against Lyon, Janot has never won, losing on eight occasions. And while Lyon celebrated knocking out Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday night, Saint-Étienne sat and watched from 16th place in Ligue 1, just six points clear of the relegation zone.

It also bears remembering that Les Verts only just survived last year, finishing fourth from bottom.

But once upon a time it was a completely different story. In fact, the roles were reversed. It was April 1961 when a man with a pipe firmly stuck in his craw strolled confidently into the boardroom at Saint-Étienne’s Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.

His name was Roger Rocher, a local entrepreneur, who over three decades would not only change Saint-Étienne’s fortunes, but also the very landscape of French football.

After promotion from the second division in 1963, Saint-Étienne would win nine League titles and six French Cups in 17 years.

It was a truly unprecedented spell of dominance that was punctuated by famous European nights, no more so than in 1976 when Robert Herbin’s legendary side reached the final of the European Cup at Hampden Park, only to lose 1-0 to Bayern Munich after twice hitting the woodwork.

Jacques Santini (remember him?) hits the Bayern woodwork

Neighbours Lyon were undoubtedly in the shadows. Saint-Étienne had ruffled their feathers on more than one occasion before. Pierre Faurand, Rocher’s predecessor, got a real kick out of poking fun at them.

In 1957, three years after Saint-Étienne won their first League title, he decided to refurbish the Geoffroy-Guichard and for a time, it seemed likely that they would have to ground-share with Lyon. But Faurand laughed off the suggestion. “We’re maybe going to Paris,” he said. “We can’t go to Lyon. The supporters wouldn’t settle for that.”

Rocher would prove a different animal altogether, though, and one with considerably more bite. Having worked in Saint-Étienne’s mines from the age of 17 to 27, he revelled in getting one over those arty-types who lived 40 miles away in a city more famous for nouvelle cuisine and cinema than football.

When he died in 1997, Lyon were still five years away from winning Ligue 1 for the first time, something he probably cherished.

One of his finest hours inevitably came at Lyon’s expense in 1969 when Saint- Étienne beat them 7-1 just three days after knocking Bayern out of the European Cup. “In football,” he quipped. “Saint- Étienne will always be the capital and Lyon its suburb.”

When Les Verts went to the Stade Gerland the following March, Lyon understandably tried to rough them up.

The fans threw cheese baskets on to the pitch and Salif Keita, Saint- Étienne’s powerful Malian striker, was fouled so much that he said: “I had to put on two sets of shin guards: one for the front and the other for the backs of my legs.” Keita made four assists and scored once on that day in another memorable victory. 

Such was the degree of Saint- Étienne’s superiority in those days that they could often conjure a win with only 10 men.

In 1978, Oswaldo Piazza, their talismanic Argentinian defender, expressed his desire to spend Christmas back in South America. So during a derby that December - with the result already assured - he was allowed to leave the pitch, jump in a cab and catch a flight home. 

However, it would all begin to unravel in spectacular fashion in 1982 when an investigation was launched into the club’s finances that would lead to Rocher being sentenced to four years in prison for embezzlement.

Aulas insists on holding press conferences on a ski-slope 

Saint- Étienne were relegated two years later and things would never be the same again. In 1987, Jean-Michel Aulas, a software entrepreneur, bought Lyon and the tide finally changed.

As the 99th derby approached on Saturday evening, Saint- Étienne fans were all too aware of that much. If they weren’t then there was no shortage of Lyon supporters to remind them that it’s now been 16 years and 21 derbies since Saint- Étienne could claim the bragging rights, something L’Équipe was also keen to underline.

“For Les Verts it’s not just a bad run,” wrote Vincent Duluc. “It’s a curse.”

And yet there was an undercurrent of optimism as the team sitting on the banks of the Loire travelled to the one that sits on the Rhone. Both may be flowing in different directions, one to the Atlantic, the other to the Mediterranean, but on Saturday they would be equal as is always emphasised in the lore of the derby, football’s great leveller.

Lyon would surely be physically and mentally tired after their exertions at the Santiago Bernabéu in midweek. Europe had already made them pay this season. In October, they returned from Anfield with an illustrious 2-1 win over Liverpool, only to then lose 4-1 to Nice.

Their progress in the Champions League had also benefited Saint- Étienne in other ways. “It’s true that their qualification brings us a bonus of €1m from the transfer of Bafétimbi Gomis,” Rolland Romeyer, one of Saint- Étienne’s two presidents, smiled at the weekend

And the pressure was on Lyon anyway, as League leaders Bordeaux had lost to Auxerre on Wednesday and then drew against Monaco earlier on Saturday. If Claude Puel’s side won, they would go joint top in Ligue 1. 

But it wasn’t to be. Saint- Étienne took the lead just before half time through their 20-year-old revelation Emmanuel Rivière, a graduate from the club’s academy, who has now scored seven of his eight goals in 2010.

He thrived on the uncertainty of Lyon’s backline, which was different in its configuration for the third game in a row and perhaps more importantly without Jean-Alain Boumsong. 

"You're my best mate, you are..." 

Puel changed things at the interval, bringing on Lisandro López and the bearded Argentinean soon proved decisive. The 27-year-old scored Lyon’s equaliser and his 12th League goal this season with 11 minutes to go in circumstances which only served to demonstrate the way in which the roles of the two sides has reversed over the last 20 years or so. ]

Loic Perrin, the Saint- Étienne full-back, who was born and bred in the town, signalled to the bench that he would have to come off. His manager, Christophe Galtier had already been planning a change elsewhere on the pitch. Kevin Mirallas was ready to come on for Gonzalo Bergessio, the Saint- Étienne striker.

So a replacement for the now incapacitated Perrin wasn’t ready. In the space of time it took Perrin’s substitute, Guirane N’Daw, to get out of his tracksuit, Lyon launched a long ball forward that found Lopez’s head.

The ball looped over Janot in the Saint- Étienne goal, bounced off the far post and just crossed the line. It finished 1-1.

Unlike the great Saint- Étienne sides of old, this one couldn’t beat Lyon when down to 10 men. However, it had been a valiant effort and Janot was clearly happy. “This was one of the best derbies for a long time,” he told Orange Sport.

“We had a big first half, but Lyon reacted in the second like they did in Madrid.” Galtier had a few little regrets, but the fight for survival goes on and the lessons of the past can hopefully inspire this Saint- Étienne side to bigger and better things to come.

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