Monaco's prospects of overhauling Paris Saint-Germain at the top of the French Ligue 1 appeared to take another blow as Claudio Ranieri's side were held to a 1-1 draw by struggling Montpellier. Layvin Kurzawa put Monaco in front after half-time at the Stade de la Mosson, but the hosts drew level midway through the second period when M'Baye Niang converted the rebound after his penalty had been saved by goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.
The result in what was the first Ligue 1 game of 2014 means that leaders PSG could pull five points clear of the principality club with a win at bottom side Ajaccio on Saturday afternoon, while Lille can leapfrog Monaco into second by beating Reims on Sunday.
Ranieri handed Colombian striker Radamel Falcao his first start in a league game since late November after injury for the away side, who had surprisingly lost 2-1 at home to Valenciennes in their last match before Christmas. Montpellier, who had lost 4-1 when the sides met at the Stade Louis II in the reverse fixture, came into the game just three points clear of the relegation zone and the 2012 champions were still looking for their first win since Rolland Courbis returned for a second spell as coach last month.
Courbis handed a start to young striker Niang, a loan signing from AC Milan who scored on his debut for the club in the French Cup last weekend. Neither he nor Falcao were particularly prominent in the first half, with Monaco's best chance coming when a Joao Moutinho shot was beaten away by home goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren.
Meanwhile, Remy Cabella squandered a glorious chance for Montpellier just before the interval when he hesitated and allowed Subasic to clear after a speculative Mathieu Deplagne ball had fallen into his path six yards out.
Monaco pegged back
It was Monaco who took the lead seven minutes after the break when young left-back Kurzawa rose to meet a James Rodriguez free-kick from the left flank, the ball coming off his shoulder before looping over Jourdren and into the net.
However, Montpellier showed great spirit to come back and win a penalty when the quick feet of Cabella enticed veteran defender Eric Abidal into committing a foul inside the box. Niang's initial effort was saved by Subasic, but the 19-year-old reacted quickest to convert the follow-up, and Montpellier held on to take a morale-boosting point, although they needed Jourdren to make an important save from Yannick Ferreira Carrasco late on to keep them on level terms.