Time for Lens to dig deep in Ligue 1

PARIS - Ligue 1 strugglers Racing Lens, a team who retain the gritty work ethic of their working class origins, face a stern test when leaders Stade Rennes, top for the first time in 40 years, visit on Sunday.

Lens, formed by coal miners 105 years ago, won their first and only national French title in 1998 but now find themselves needing to roll up their sleeves and battle for top flight survival after a disappointing opening to the season.

Second-placed St Etienne travel to Nice on Sunday, with the league's top striker Dimitri Payet in fine form, having set up two goals in France's 2-0 wins over Romania and Luxembourg in their Euro 2012 qualifiers.

Unbeaten third-placed Lille, meanwhile, travel to improving Olympique Lyon on Sunday.

Ambitious Rennes provide just the kind of challenge which the 19th-placed Lens from Northern France will relish - and just the kind of match the leaders will need to win if they are to build on a start reaping 18 points from eight games.

Fans of Lens, second from bottom with five points, are not taking their disappointing start lightly, especially having won hard fought promotion back to Ligue 1 only last year.

Earlier this week, president Gervais Martel, a colourful character with a strong northern accent with a slight stammer, met fans from all over the country to talk through the problems.

"Whether you want it or not, the solution will come from the players we have right now because there will be no recruitment," he told them.

"We have to stick together, it's part of our values."

In 1924, Lens became Les Sang et Or (blood and gold), an nickname inspired by their red and yellow shirts. They come from the coal mines, the red for the blood of the miners and the gold for the coal which was valuable at that time.

"Our position in the standings worries me, but what worries me more is the behaviour," Martel, a local entrepeneur who took charge in 1988, told a press conference.

In a 3-0 defeat to Sochaux, Yohan Demont and Nenad Kovacevic had a violent quarrel on the pitch.

"They were punished," Martel said without elaborating. "But they are good guys."

Both players are expected to be on the turf against Rennes.

"We were always able to weather storms, even if it was painful," said Martel. "We will go though it together. We cannot write the word 'solidarity' off the RC Lens's dictionary."


Rennes should be able to rely on striker Victor Hugo Montano, who is expected to have fully recovered from a thigh injury.

Third-placed Lille, who drew five and won three in the league this season, have, however, been struggling to rediscover their attacking touch.

Lyon, French champions from 2002-08, bounced back from back-to-back defeats when they prevailed at Nancy in the previous round of matches and will rely on Yoann Gourcuff's form to continue their recovery.

"Matches against Lyon are always tense and full of suspense," Lille midfielder Florent Balmont, who played for Lyon in the 2002/03 season, told his club's website.

"We have to be careful. I know them well, Lyon will want to bounce back."

Lyon, who got off to a miserable start to the season, lie 17th in the standings, 10 points behind Rennes, the only other unbeaten club in the league.

On Saturday, champions Olympique Marseille will host Nancy, who are unbeaten away from home.

"We are entering an important period as we are going to play every three days for a month," Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze told the club's website.