French leaders Lille suffered frustration today as a late Auxerre equaliser denied them a win which would have underpinned their hopes of a first league title in 57 years. But Lyon and Paris Saint Germain were unable to take advantage as they also dropped points as an increasingly tight championship race hots up.
Lille arrived at their struggling hosts with four-point cushion over a clutch of sides in what is turning into a tight battle for the crown. League top scorer Moussa Sow fired in his 16th of the season with an acrobatic effort after 16 minutes, but the home fans had the last laugh at the Abbe-Deschamps stadium when Dariusz Dudka levelled with just four minutes remaining.
Lille coach Rudi Garcia admitted: "We still have much progress to make. But we left ourselves open to their leveller and weren't able to close the gate. After the equaliser I think we allowed a little frustration to creep in and that could have cost us dear."
The solitary point left Lille on 42 points from 22 games, but they still increased their advantage to five points after Paris Saint Germain went down to a goal from their former junior starlet Yacine Brahimi at Rennes, who joined the capital club on 37 points.
Lyon failed to join that pair on the same tally after they could only grind out a goalless draw in Sunday's late game at home to Bordeaux. The point left Lyon joint-fifth with Saint Etienne on 35 points. Fourth-placed Marseille are a point better off after striker Andre-Pierre Gignac fired the defending champions back into the title race on yesterday with the only goal at home to rock-bottom Arles.
Coach Didier Deschamps had demanded a massive improvement after a woeful goalless draw last week against struggling neighbours Monaco and Gignac's third goal of the season brought some relief after an hour's domination had brought no reward.
Brandao and Lucho combined to find the French international striker, who has yet to find top form since an 18-million-euro sumer move from Toulouse, and he made no mistake to take the former European Cup winners onto 36 points from 22 games.
Deschamps admitted that Arles, with only one win all season, had been difficult to break down. "It was a tough game and we expected that. But we had a string of chances and hit the woodwork twice. The main thing was to win - but we can do a lot better."
Saint Etienne stayed in touch following Emmanuel Riviere's brace of goals which brought a 2-1 win at Montpellier and Toulouse are also in the mix after a Moussa Sissoko double Sunday pushed Monaco deeper into the relegation mire.
Promoted Brest, who spent the first third of the season looking as if they might even qualify for Europe, before slipping back badly, ended a five-match winless run with a 2-1 win yesterday over Nancy. Bruno Grougi netted a late winner to add to Jonathan Ayit's opener after a Moise Brou Apanga own goal had threatened to cost the hosts two dropped points.