Montpellier stays on track in French league

Montpellier beat relegation battlers Sochaux 2-1 to move provisionally three points clear at the top of the French league and keep the pressure on title rival Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday.
Montpellier's Souleymane Camara, here in an earlier game, had the winner on Saturday as his club stayed on top of the French first division. (Laurent Cipriani/Associated Press)

Montpellier beat relegation battlers Sochaux 2-1 to move provisionally three points clear at the top of the French league and keep the pressure on title rival Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday.

Midfielder Younes Belhanda gave Montpellier an early lead and, after Modibo Maiga equalized for the visitors with his third goal in three games, striker Souleymane Camara scored the winner early in the second half.

Montpellier also opened up a seven-point gap on third-place Lille after the defending champion, which has played one game more, lost 3-1 at Brest.

"I don't know if we're closer to winning the title, but we're doing all we can to get it," Montpellier coach Rene Girard said. "At the start of the season, we weren't supposed to be champions, but we'll try and go all the way now."

Montpellier plays its game in hand away to Marseille on Wednesday.

"I told the lads there are six weeks to go," Girard said. "We have to keep our concentration throughout that time, and focus on ourselves, not on Paris."

PSG takes on bitter rival Marseille on Sunday.

Montpellier scored in the fourth minute when top scorer Olivier Giroud went clean through and saw his shot saved by goalkeeper Pierrick Cros. Belhanda followed up and neatly chipped the ball over Cros.

Maiga equalized for Sochaux in the 28th, controlling David Sauget's cross from the right and acrobatically driving it home.

Cros kept Montpellier at bay with some fine saves, but was beaten again in the 55th when Camara fired into an empty net after Cros fisted away John Utaka's drive.

Lille had won its last three games to get back into title contention, but went two goals down inside the first 10 minutes.

"We weren't at our best, both individually and collectively," Lille coach Rudi Garcia said. "You can sum the match up by saying Brest wanted it more than us and got the luck they needed to win. But they deserved their luck."

After five minutes, right back Omar Daf smashed the ball in from 35 metres after Joe Cole's clearance landed in his path. It was the veteran Senegal defender's first ever league goal in his 14th season.

Bruno Grougi made it 2-0 from the penalty spot with this eighth goal of the campaign after defender Franck Beria handled the ball.

Forward Dimitri Payet pulled a goal back when he turned in Benoit Pedretti's cross, but Alexandre Alphonse restored Brest's two-goal lead in the 53rd, and Lille's chances of a comeback were curtailed when striker Tulio De Melo was sent off with 20 minutes left.

Striker Lisandro Lopez scored two penalties to take his tally to 12 as fourth-placed Lyon beat struggling Auxerre 2-1 at home to move within three points of Lille and three ahead of Toulouse.

Midfielder Alain Traore replied for rock-bottom Auxerre.

Also, it was: Ajaccio 1, Saint-Etienne 1; Dijon 0, Nancy 2; Evian 1, Rennes 3, and Valenciennes 2, Toulouse 0.

Veteran midfielder Jerome Leroy gave Evian the lead against his former club, but sixth-placed Rennes replied with second-half goals from forward Youssouf Hadji, winger Jonathan Pitroipa and striker Mevlut Erding.

Nancy and Valenciennes are both nestled in mid-table and closer to safety after their wins.

Midfielder Bakaye Traore scored both of Nancy's goals, taking his tally to four in the last three games.

Valenciennes made the most of the extra man after Toulouse winger Franck Tabanou was sent off late in the first half. Midfielder Gael Danic opened the scoring in the 62nd minute and Mamadou Samassa sealed the win with a late penalty.

Toulouse, which has lost its last two matches, remains in fifth place.

Ajaccio continued to climb away from the relegation zone after defender Carl Medjani cancelled out Florent Sinama-Pongolle's opener.

In Sunday's other games, Caen faces Bordeaux, and Nice takes on Lorient.