Wed, May 09, 2012 - Page 19 News List

Montpellier return to Ligue 1 summit

STEP CLOSER:Montpellier Herault opened a three-point gap at the top with a 2-0 win, while LOSC Lille Metropole won 3-0 to secure their Champions League place

AFP, PARIS

LOSC Lille Metropole’s Tulio de Melo, center, heads the ball to score against Stade Malherbe Caen in their Ligue 1 match in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, France, on Monday.

Photo: Reuters

Montpellier Herault took a significant step toward their first ever Ligue 1 title by winning 2-0 at Stade Rennais on Monday to restore their three-point lead over Paris Saint-Germain with two games to play.

PSG had gone top on goals scored by winning 4-3 at Valenciennes on Sunday, but Montpellier are now in pole position ahead of a home game with reigning champions LOSC Lille Metropole at the weekend that could decide the destiny of the title.

“The president [Louis Nicollin] was on the bench, everyone was there, and we showed that we’ll take some catching,” said Montpellier coach Rene Girard, whose side require four points to be crowned champions. “Before Evian, everyone said it was over and that we were too far in front, and we saw what happened [Montpellier drew 2-2]. We’ll keep going. We have a big match against Lille and we have to take the points. We’ll keep plugging away and prepare for our match against Lille.”

Rennes winger Jonathan Pitroipa hit the crossbar with an overhead-kick after 13 minutes at the Stade de la Route de Lorient, but the visitors took the lead with their first attempt on target in the 26th minute.

John Boye’s attempted clearance was blocked by Remy Cabella and it fell for Souleymane Camara, who smashed home from close range to partially atone for his unsuccessful stoppage-time penalty in last week’s 2-2 draw with Evian.

Montpellier’s second goal early in the second half owed much to fortune, with Cabella’s rasping low drive bouncing off the base of the post, before rebounding into the net off prone Rennes goalkeeper Benoit Costil.

Despite the defeat, Rennes remain on course for a fifth-placed finish — and a berth in the Europa League — although they now lead sixth-placed AS Saint-Etienne only on goal-difference.

Lille must beat Montpellier next weekend to stand any chance of retaining their title, but they at least secured a Champions League place by comfortably winning 3-0 at home to Stade Malherbe Caen earlier on Monday.

Tulio de Melo opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 26th minute after Eden Hazard was felled by Caen goalkeeper Alexis Thebaux and the Brazilian striker doubled his tally 10 minutes later by rising to head home from a corner.

Dimitri Payet made it 3-0 from Hazard’s pass — the Belgian’s 15th assist of the season — on the hour, before De Melo was denied a hat-trick when his half-volley cannoned back off the bar.

“[Finishing in the top three] was our ambition at the start of the season, but not the target,” Lille coach Rudi Garcia said. “Now that we’ve got at least third place, we’re obviously hungrier. We’ll do everything to take second place and maybe even jump into first.”

AJ Auxerre sank to the foot of the table after crashing 4-2 at home to Girondins de Bordeaux, who opened the scoring through Yoan Gouffran after 13 seconds and were 3-0 up inside nine minutes thanks to a further goal from Gouffran and a Ludovic Sane header.

The defeat left Auxerre two points from safety, while Sochaux-Montbeliard leapt from the bottom of the table to 17th place after an 85th-minute Sebastien Roudet strike secured a potentially priceless 1-0 win at home to AS Nancy-Lorraine.

Dijon FCO sit second-bottom, a point above Auxerre and level with third-bottom Stade Brestois 29, after they registered a goalless draw at Lorient.

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