Tired Lille look to end slump

LOSC Lille Métropole are struggling in Ligue 1 and will be out of Europe if they fail to claim victory at AJ Auxerre.

Having lost the first leg of the all-French UEFA Cup Round of 16 encounter 1-0 last week, only victory at AJ Auxerre on Thursday will prevent LOSC Lille Métropole's elimination.

Steady decline
Since defeating Ligue 1 leaders Olympique Lyonnais 2-1 in January, Lille have failed to win their last seven league matches and bowed out of the French Cup at the hands of second division Grenoble Foot 38.

Pegged back
Lille looked to be heading for a rare victory against sixth-placed Toulouse FC on Sunday when Peter Odemwingie turned in Christophe Landrin's cross on 61 minutes. However, midfield player Mathieu Chalmé was sent off eleven minutes later, and the dismissal proved pivotal as Toulouse striker Daniel Moreira volleyed in the equaliser almost immediately.

Puel hopeful
Nevertheless, the game has restored hope for coach Claude Puel who believes his tired side can put in one last effort before Sunday's league game, their last before a two-week break. "We were far better at the weekend," he said. "In the last few games we slowed down; the huge number of matches we've played this season have begun to take their toll [The match against Auxerre will be Lille's 50th this season]. But now it's the final straight before we have a mini-break."

Tafforeau doubt
But Puel knows that Auxerre will be tough opponents at Stade Abbé Deschamps, adding: "Auxerre are fallible but not very often. They have a strong front-line and our only chance is to deny them space." The side will have to do so without midfield player Jean Makoun who is still sidelined, while Grégory Tafforeau is doubtful with a thigh injury.

Auxerre absentees
Auxerre striker Benjani Mwaruwari is also struggling with a thigh problem and sat out Sunday's 2-2 draw against AS Monaco FC. His replacement, Luigi Pieroni, was on target along with Jean-Sébastien Jaurès, whose penalty 14 minutes from time salvaged a point. Mwaruwari is expected to return for Thursday's game but playmaker Yann Lachuer and defensive duo Johan Radet and Younes Kaboul are all out injured, while Teemu Tainio is a major doubt.

'A different game'
The match has an added spice for Benoît Cheyrou, who spent five seasons with Lille before joining Auxerre last summer and the midfield player believes the tie is far from over. "Many commentators have already sealed our progression but we must not take it easy," he said. "Lille will come here and give all they've got."