Marseille held by Rennes

Marseille failed to capitalise on the chance to pull clear at the top of the French table when Didier Deschamps' defending champions were held to a goalless draw by Rennes at their Stade Velodrome on Wednesday.

With qualification to the UEFA Champions League accomplished last week Marseille will have approached this heldover fixture as an ideal opportunity to gain control in what is one of the tightest title fights in living memory. The top eight sides are seperated by just two points with Marseille leading the charge on 25 points, one clear of Lille and Brest.

A share of the spoils was a justified return for both sides in a balanced encounter. Rennes, placed fifth, have only one win to show from their last seven games, and they were left to rue an early penalty miss by Jires Kembo Ekoko in the fifth minute.

The spot kick had been awarded when Marseille keeper Steve Mandana brought down the goal-charging Rennes striker Victor Hugo Montano but Mandana redeemed himself by diving the right way to deny Ekoko.

Rennes coach Frederic Antonetti maintained Mandana should have been sent off. "I thought after five minutes we were going to find ourselves at 11 against 10, why is it he would have been sent off elsewhere but not here? Mandana shouldn't have been allowed to stay on the pitch," he complained.

As for Marseille this was the first time they have failed to find the back of the net in the league this season, although Argentina international Lucho will wonder how he missed a gilt-edged occasion in the closing stages.

In Wednesday's second match Saint Etienne were on target to end a seven match winless streak when Jeremy Rivere put them ahead against Valenciennes only for the hosts to strike back via Gael Danic 15 minutes from the end for a deserved 1-1 draw.

Unfancied Brest snapped a three-game winless streak on Tuesday with a 4-1 thumping of Lens to go joint top for 24 hours.