A seemingly routine Monaco win was turned on its head in a dramatic final 10 minutes in which Reims overturned the deficit to run out unlikely 2-1 winners, dealing yet another blow to the Principality side’s dwindling hopes of elite European football.
The game got underway following a five-minute delay, which Reims coach Óscar García revealed post-match was a symbolic gesture in support of the Ukrainian people, and which was instigated by president Jean-Pierre Caillot.
For Philippe Clement, however, it was an unexpected gesture. “Honestly, I was a bit surprised. If you are going to make such a gesture, we should be told in advance. We have a tight preparation for the game, every minute is organised to be ready for the match.” The Belgian coach did, however, agree with the sentiment. “There is no-one in the club who wants the war.”
The unexpected denouement was preceded by a match that largely adhered to pregame expectations, Reims deploying a stout, low-block, whilst the home side dominated possession.
Monaco were denied a perfect start as Gelson Martins, whose movement had already caused problems for the Reims defence, found himself inexplicably unmarked at the back-post. He headed in a sumptuous cross from Sofiane Diop, only for the offside flag to come to the rescue for Reims. Monaco denied by a matter of inches.
Reims withstood the early pressure, and as Monaco relinquished their control of the game, the away side gained in confidence, yielding a flurry of chances on the break. Mitchell Van Bergen should have done better with his chances, the same could be said for Maxime Busi, whose free-header was gratefully gathered by Alexander Nübel.
In committing more to the attacking effort, something resembling an open game of football temporarily broke out. Profiting from the space created between the lines was Wissam Ben Yedder, whose well-struck shot was well-parried by the Reims keeper. The ball then fell to Kevin Volland, whose inability to get a shot away provided a snapshot of a striker low on confidence.
In spite of Monaco’s possessional dominance, the best chance of the match thus far would fall to Fraser Hornby early in the second-half, who, having found himself unpressured on the edge of the box, rifled a powerful shot against the Monaco bar.
Reims were duly punished moments later. Sofiane Diop, who looked the most likely to unlock the tightly-packed Reims defence slipped an incisive ball through to Ligue 1’s top scorer Ben Yedder, the latter finishing in typically clinical fashion to register his 15th of the campaign.
In taking the lead, Philippe Clement’s side had overcome their recent impotence against low-blocking sides, and immediately set about getting another monkey off their back. Monaco are yet to score from a corner this season, but they wouldn’t go any closer without scoring as Ben Yedder almost doubled his account with a volley, which struck the face of the post.
Jean Lucas then had the chance to put the fixture to bed, but an uncomposed, wild finish saw the golden chance go to waste. That miss would prove costly. In search of an all-elusive goal, Volland finally converted -but at the wrong end, the German striker’s header sailed past a helpless Nübel.
Things would only get even worse for Monaco. Frustrations boiled over for Jean Lucas, who received a second yellow for leaving a foot in on his opponent. Then deep into stoppage time, Reims made their numerical advantage count, Nathanaël Mbuku steaming in at the back post to smash past Nübel. Cue jubilant scenes on the Reims bench, in stark contrast to the boos, which rang around the Stade Louis II, as the stands quickly emptied.
The seemingly assured victory, dramatically turned to defeat in a disastrous final 10 minutes, which leaves Monaco’s Champions League hopes in tatters. The Principality side sit eight points off the podium, and have only taken two points from what – on paper – seemed like an easy run of games (Lorient, Bordeaux, Reims).
Post-match, Clement revealed his disappointment at the way that his side finished the match. “We need to be more intelligent and more well-organised in such circumstances. We did lots of good things today and created good opportunities. In the final minutes we made errors, which changed the match.”
Monaco must quickly arrest the slide, with an important match away to Nantes in the Coupe de France on Wednesday – a competition, which perhaps offers them the best chance of European qualification.