Tue, May 22, 2012 - Page 20 News List

Montpellier Herault claim their first ever French title

AFP, PARIS

AJ Auxerre and Montpellier Herault players pick up tennis balls after Auxerre fans threw tennis balls and toilet paper on to the pitch in their Ligue 1 match at the Stade de l’Abbe-Deschamps in Auxerre, France, on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

Montpellier Herault claimed the first Ligue 1 title in their history after winning 2-1 at AJ Auxerre on an extraordinary final day of the season on Sunday, after a game twice delayed due to protests by the home fans.

Runners-up Paris Saint-Germain did all they could by winning 2-1 at Lorient and the delays at Auxerre meant that Rene Girard’s side had to endure a nervous wait before their title success was confirmed.

Montpellier finished the season three points clear of PSG in the final standings, which gave the southern club — 14th last season — their first major honor since the 1990 French Cup.

“I think it’s deserved,” Montpellier coach Girard said amid scenes of celebration on the pitch at Auxerre following the final whistle. “It was a huge fight right until the end. Looking at the number of points, you have to say that the three teams at the top [Montpellier, PSG and LOSC Lille Metropole] have had extraordinary seasons.”

There was no hint of the drama to come when Auxerre broke the deadlock in the 20th minute at Stade de l’Abbe-Deschamps, with Olivier Kapo heading home from a corner.

A defeat was the only means by which Montpellier could have been denied the title, but they equalized in the 32nd minute when John Utaka converted a low right-wing cross from Souleymane Camara.

The Auxerre fans’ protest at their relegation — which saw them throw tennis balls and toilet rolls onto the pitch — began at the start of the second half and it forced the players to return to the changing rooms.

When play resumed, Montpellier were 19 minutes behind the Lorient-PSG game and with PSG winning, the leaders were left living on their nerves.

Goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren repelled a powerful drive from Delvin N’Dinga, before flares thrown by Auxerre’s fans obliged the players to leave the pitch again and led to a second delay lasting about 20 minutes.

With PSG’s players watching on television in Lorient, riot police began to clear the protesting fans from the stand behind the Montpellier goal and play was able to resume.

There were still 16 minutes to play, but Utaka calmed the visiting fans’ nerves in the 76th minute when he swiveled to slam home his second goal and take the title to the Stade de la Mosson for the very first time.

Montpellier’s Olivier Giroud finished as the top scorer in Ligue 1, ending the season level with PSG’s Nene on 21 goals, but prevailing by virtue of having scored fewer penalties.

PSG needed to win to stand any chance of winning the title, but they fell behind in the 28th minute at Lorient when Kevin Monnet-Paquet ghosted in behind Zoumana Camara to score with a back-post header.

Carlo Ancelotti’s men equalized in the 61st minute through record signing Javier Pastore and claimed victory through Thiago Motta with 15 minutes left, but it was not enough to deny Montpellier.

“I’m disappointed that we haven’t won the title, but the team has done some good work this season, even though we’ve had difficulties in certain matches,” Ancelotti said. “Montpellier had a great season, as did PSG, and it’s good to be in the Champions League because it’s a strong league.”

Elsewhere, Girondins de Bordeaux won 3-2 at AS Saint-Etienne to pip their opponents to fifth place and a berth in the Europa League, with Stade Rennais consigned to sixth despite a 5-0 thrashing of Dijon FCO that sent the side promoted last season back to Ligue 2.

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