Lyon reached the midway point in their bid for a record eighth French league title in their customary position as leaders of the pack after a 1-0 win at Caen on Saturday.
Karim Benzema sent Lyon into the lead two minutes from the break, the France striker getting the better of keeper Vincent Plante from a three-man move featuring Argentine Cesar Delgado and Juninho.
Lyon came into the game anxious for a result after garnering only two points from a maximum of 12 from their last four games and, while Caen may not have constituted the toughest possible rivals, the Normandy club represented something of a bete noir for Claude Puel’s champions who had not won at the Michel d’Ornano Stadium since 1995.
Puel said it was good to get a victory under the belt.
“It was mission accomplished, even if we were in a little bit of difficulty at the end because we should have sealed the match up before then,” Puel said. “These three points do us a lot of good just before the Christmas break and it was good to get a victory after several poor matches.”
Lyon will have considered themselves fortunate to come out after the break in front after being largely dominated by Caen in the first period. The visitors went close to doubling their advantage though in the 51st minute, but Benzema’s shot after a Juninho free-kick was pushed away by Plante with Jean II Makoun then shooting over the cross bar.
Caen had Plante’s quick reflexes to thank for keeping out Juninho’s dangerous strike on 59 minutes, but shortly after the home side had the woodwork to thank for denying Fred.
The result lifted Puel’s men up to 38 points going into the Christmas recess, four points clear of Rennes, who moved into provisional second with a come-from-behind 2-1 win at Lorient.
The hosts had taken the lead with a first-half stoppage-time strike from Jeremy Morel, before Ghana international Asamoah Gyan and Moussa Sow turned the game around late in the second half.
Rennes coach Guy Lacombe said: “It was infuriating to be led at halftime, but we came back and I pay tribute to my players after a very good second period. To arrive at the Christmas break with 34 points is great.”
Down at the other end of the table, Le Havre jealously held on to bottom spot with a 3-1 loss to Lille for their 13th defeat of the campaign. It was hardly the start coach Frederic Hantz, who on Thursday signed a new 18-month contract, was looking for as he seeks to turnaround Le Havre’s season.
Struggling Soachaux did their fight to stave off relegation no harm at all with a 1-1 draw at Nantes that saw them move up one place into third-from-bottom on goal difference from Valenciennes.
St Etienne celebrated making it into the UEFA Cup round of 32 this week with a resounding 2-0 win over Auxerre. Portugal’s Paulo Machado put the former European heavyweights into a 12th-minute lead, with Bafetimbi Gomis wrapping up the points three minutes from time. The result kept St Etienne in fourth from bottom, but importantly lifted them five points clear of the relegation zone.