Although Auxerre had lost only once in their previous nine Ligue 1 games, the two sides were separated by just one place and two points in this crucial bottom-half fixture at the Stade de l'Abbe-Deschamps. And with the hosts being the form team in this clash, their industry caused the winless-in-seven Nantes to give away a penalty inside just five minutes. Andrei Girotto carelessly handled the ball when trying to clear a corner, and Eric Wattellier pointed to the spot after a VAR review, allowing defender Jubal to step up and calmly make it 1-0.
Despite seeing far less of the ball after going ahead, Auxerre still carved out the best chances, with Gaulthier Hein notably dragging a shot wide after being found by Da Costa inside the area. But Nantes only had themselves to blame for Auxerre’s second goal late in the first half, as after collecting a corner, Alban Lafont rolled the ball straight into the path of a gleeful Lassine Sinayoko. Perhaps unable to believe his luck, the winger saw his effort rebound off the bar, but the ball fell straight to Da Costa for an easy tap-in.
The visitors had the left-hand post to thank for not being even further behind immediately after the restart, as Da Costa rose highest at a corner to get enough of a flick on the ball to crash it against the post. Jubal’s follow up effort also came rebounding back off the woodwork to the disbelief of the home fans. Clearly spurred on by that huge let off, Nantes pulled one back shortly after, when Moses Simon’s brilliant cross was converted by a fine Mostafa Mohamed header.
Nantes looked like a different team after halving the deficit, and were unlucky not to draw level late on, with efforts by Girotto and Moussa Sissoko inches away from making it 2-2. It was then the visitors’ turn to see an effort hit the post, when Ludovic Blas curled effort came inches away from making it a deserved 2-2 scoreline for Les Canaris.
Despite those heart-stopping moments, Auxerre held on to take a vital maximum and open up a three-point lead over fourth-bottom Strasbourg. As for Nantes, they are still not out of trouble, and a home victory over the seemingly-doomed Troyes next Sunday is one that the Canaries simply must get if they are to enjoy their looming cup final without fears for their top-flight status.
The Eaglets were seeking to close the 10-point gap between themselves and the European places, a task not helped by a run of five league games without victory. Brest would be a tough nut to crack though, with Eric Roy’s men unbeaten in three as they look to stave off the drop. The respective league positions of the sides was reflected in a dominant start by Nice, but the hosts drew first blood against the run of play, as Jérémy Le Douaron expertly headed in Kenny Lala’s floating ball into the area from the right-hand side.
Nice may have still been feeling the effects of their European exploits in midweek, but they were keen to level the scoring immediately after falling behind, with Badredine Bouanani testing Marco Bizot with a hopeful hit from the edge of the area. Bizot was alert to deny Bouanani for a second time soon afterwards, before Steve Mounié headed directly at Kasper Schmeichel down at the other end of the pitch minutes later. With time running out before the HT whistle, Bizot was on hand again to preserve Brest’s lead, brilliantly stopping Melvin Bard’s magnificent solo effort.
Interim Nice boss Didier Digard replaced Ayoub Amraoui with Terem Moffi at the interval in a bid to change his team's fortunes on the pitch. However, the Eaglets almost further behind soon after the restart, though Romain Del Castillo steered his bending effort just wide of the target following an excellent team move by the home side.
Still seemingly frustrated with his side’s performance, Digard made a triple change on the hour mark, which initially prompted a response, though Moffi was unable to fire the ball past Bizot, who was in sensational form. Nice kept going, but they failed to break Brest’s stubborn resistance, as the home side held on to end the Eaglets’ eight-game unbeaten run away from home in all competitions, while maintaining their two-point gap to the bottom-four.
Seeking only their third successive victory since their promotion back to the pinnacle of French football in 2021, Clermont dominated the early possessional exchanges, as the visitors were forced to chase the ball around the Stade Gabriel Montpied.
However, despite being second best throughout the opening 15 minutes, Angers took the lead against the run of play shortly before the half-hour mark. Previously on loan at Clermont during his earlier playing days in L1, Adrien Hunou returned to haunt his former team with a sublimely-struck strike that flew into the corner past Mory Diaw.
Only four minutes after celebrating with his teammates, Hunou was forced to apologise to his colleagues as the goalscorer brought down the marauding forward Neto Borges in the area. With the assurance of four of his goals this season coming in front of Les Lanciers’ supporters, Grejohn Kyei stepped up to make no mistake from the penalty spot.
Now back on a level playing field, Clermont unbelievably turned the game on its head six minutes before HT, as referee Thomas Leonard once again pointed to the spot after Cédric Hountondji’s clumsy foul on Kyei. With the striker unable to take up his customary penalty-taking responsibilities due to receiving treatment after Hountondji’s foul, Muhammed Cham took up the task, and fortuitously gave his side the lead despite striking his penalty against the leg of Paul Bernardoni.
Borges concluded a frantic first-half by taking an early shower, as the Brazilian defender was shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Nabil Bentaleb that forced the Angers captain out of the rest of the game. Possessing a potentially match-changing numerical advantage, Angers came close to equalising ten minutes into the second-half, as Metz loanee Ibrahima Niane forced a smart save from Diaw.
Nonetheless, Clermont were to remain relatively untroubled by their visitors, amid Hunou hitting the post in the 74th minute and Alidu Seidu’s red card deep into injury time, as Pascal Gastien's side held on to record their first back-to-back home league victories this season. In contrast, Angers remain a staggering 17 points adrift of safety, and are on course to play their trade in the second-tier of French football for the first time in nine seasons.
Strasbourg 3-1 AC Ajaccio
A proverbial relegation ‘six-pointer’ is rarely expected to start off on an exciting note, but that is exactly what materialised at the Stade de la Meinau as two teams in desperate need of points indulged in a tactical face-off few predicted. Ajaccio unexpectedly issued early threats with intricate play around the Strasbourg box, but soon found themselves on the wrong end of a VAR review after Stéphanie Frappart was invited to look into a penalty call for a challenge on Jean-Ricner Bellegarde.
Stepping up to the task, Kevin Gameiro didn’t hesitate to emulate the greats by daringly poking a Panenka past Benjamin Leroy to put Le Racing in the driving seat. As the only Ligue 1 side winless after conceding first (D7, L12), drawing first blood evidently boosted confidence amongst Frédéric Antonetti’s men. And in stark contrast, L’ours were left reeling at the back, but had keeper Leroy to thank for keeping the deficit at just one goal after executing successive world-class saves as HT approached.
Olivier Pantaloni made sure his visiting side began the second half in a similar manner to the first, albeit somewhat unconvincingly as they struggled to keep pace with Strasbourg’s relentless pressing play. The hosts’ efforts to keep the visitors on their toes eventually paid dividends, when Habib Diarra collected a loose ball in the box and ferociously drove a shot into the back of the net to double his side’s lead. Despite falling further behind, Ajaccio mustered courage and cut the lead in half through a commendable team effort, as Mickaël Barreto didn’t think twice before smashing a rebound into the top corner with 15 minutes left to play.
Strasbourg held strong for the remainder though, even scoring a third at the death via a brilliant individual effort by Yuito Suzuki, who twisted and turned past a hapless backline to make it 3-1. The significant win now puts the hosts even closer to the nearest safe spot than closest neighbours and fellow relegation candidates ES Troyes AC. Contrastingly, a 15th consecutive winless away H2H match means Ajaccio are ever-closer to Ligue 2, as the Corsicans continue their search for a first victory since February.