Stade Rennais shrunk the gap to the Ligue 1 top-five to just three points following a highly entertaining 4-2 win over Angers, who in turn fell to a 12th straight league match on the road without a victory (D1, L11).
What initially seemed like a strong start in this must-win encounter for Rennes, eventually turned Angers’ way, as the visitors won a penalty following a VAR check for a challenge by Steve Mandanda on Adrien Hunou.
Nabil Bentaleb stepped up to give Angers the lead, before a moment of magic delighted the home fans at the other end, courtesy of a back-heel strike.
Following some impressive work by Benjamin Bourigeaud, Amine Gouiri swiftly met a low cross and decked an intelligent flick to win over the home crowd.
That leveller unsettled Alexandre Dujeux’s men, who then gifted Rennes the lead after Cedric Hountondji blindly netted for his boyhood club with a back-pass - catching teammate Paul Bernardoni completely off-guard in a moment of sheer blunder.
However, much to the relief of the defender, his own goal was nullified just moments later when Ibrahima Niane headed the equaliser to make it 2-2 before the half0-time whistle sounded.
The goals continued to rain after the break, with Rennes cruising to go ahead via a fantastic volley by Jeremy Doku from inside the box following a brilliant team effort that left the Angers backline helpless.
Shortly after, back-to-back point-blank chances fell for both sides, neither of which were converted as the game entered the final 20 minutes of play.
Unfortunately for the visitors, a goal by Niane was then disallowed because of a handball during build-up play, before Doku capped the afternoon with an absolute peach of an individual effort to bag his brace and send Angers back home empty-handed.
A third successive defeat by a one-goal margin for Ligue 2-bound Angers means they will likely end their top-flight stint at the very bottom, having squeezed just three wins all season.
Meanwhile, Bruno Genesio’s warriors carry forward hopes of European qualification with the victory, lagging just three points behind fifth-placed Lille with five games in hand.
Clermont kept their slim hopes of a top-five finish alive with a 1-0 victory at home to Reims. The visitors have now lost four of their last six matches having only lost three in the 26 games prior to this run.
Following their 2-1 victory at Nice on Sunday, the 2022/23 top-flight campaign will go down in Clermont’s history as the first to see the club string together four wins in a row. And the Lancers flaunted their early intentions to make it five when they took the lead after just four minutes.
Muhammed Cham teed up Grejohn Kyei to bury his shot in the top-left corner, for a goal that was significant on a personal level too, with Clermont victorious on all nine previous occasions where the Frenchman had made a goal contribution.
As well as looking good to make that record a ‘perfect ten’, Pascal Gastien's men were also looking to record the first three-game home winning streak in their top-flight history.
And they nearly doubled their lead just after the half-hour mark, when the ball fell to Jim Allevinah. Sensing blood, the Gabon international attempted to curl an effort into the far bottom corner, but it went narrowly wide of the post.
Clermont continued to press for another goal after the break and went close again after 57 minutes through Mehdi Zeffane, as the Algerian latched onto a lofted pass before striking a thunderous volley only to be denied by the near post.
Zeffane went close again after 73 minutes when he attempted to catch Yehvann Diouf off guard, by drilling a low effort towards goal from 40 yards, but the French stopper reacted well to keep it out and keep his side in the game.
However, things looked as though they could start to unravel for the home side as the game entered the closing stages after being reduced to 10 men when Mateusz Wieteska was dismissed for clattering into an opponent.
Despite this, Clermont managed to see out the game with relative ease and climbed to eighth in the table, ten points off the top five. However, Reims season looks to be stumbling over the finish line after a strong start, with them falling down to 10th in the table.
Nice registered their first victory in eight league matches to keep their hope of qualifying for successive Europa Conference League appearances alive, following a hard-fought 1-0 success over Ligue 2-bound Troyes.
Winners of a dramatic five-goal thriller in October’s reverse fixture, Nice were ahead after only two minutes, as Algerian international Hicham Boudaoui took a touch of the ball on the edge of the area before unleashing a sweetly-struck strike into the bottom corner for his first goal of the season.
Nice continued to be dominant after that goal too, and should have doubled their lead only seven minutes later, but Boudaoui’s international teammate Badredine Bouanani could only fire wide with the goal at his mercy and miss out on a maiden strike for 2022/23.
As the half-hour mark approached, Troyes began to threaten Kasper Schmeichel’s net with greater regularity and finally made the Dane earn his wages with a double-blast of chances inside two minutes.
Firstly, the Nice number one got down well to keep out Wilson Odobert’s low strike, before spectacularly denying Inter Milan loanee Lucien Agoume with an even better save. And while Troyes were unable to get any closer to a leveller before the break, those efforts set the tone for an all-out assault, with their top-flight lives now in genuine jeopardy.
The interval saw changes made, as Troyes manager Patrick Kisnorbo introduced Canadian international Ike Ugbo from his seat in the dugout.
However, the second half’s opening chance fell the way of Nice, as Gauthier Gallon pulled off a tremendous close-range save to deny Terem Moffi from netting his 17th goal of the season.
With significant opportunities to extend their slender lead going amiss, Kisnorbo’s opposite number, Didier Digard turned to his own substitutes’ bench for the final 20 minutes, as attacking midfielder Ross Barkley entered the fray in an attempt to reignite Nice’s goalscoring threat.
Another splendid save from Troyes goalkeeper Gallon to prevent goalscorer Boudaoui from doubling his and Nice’s tally turned out to be the only other opportunity in the closing stages for Nice as victory moved them to within 11 points of fifth-placed Lille with only five matches left to play this season.
Meanwhile, Troyes remain on course to fall through the Ligue 1 trapdoor, after extending their winless run to a divisional-high 16 matches.