French champions Bordeaux returned to winning ways on Sunday night with a 3-1 victory at home to Saint Etienne that re-established their three-point lead at the top of the table.
The chasing pack had closed the gap on Saturday following wins for Montpellier, Lille, Lyon and Marseille, while Bordeaux went down 4-2 at Rennes in their last league outing and lost to Monaco in the French Cup in mid-week.
They got back on track against fifth-bottom Saint Etienne though, but only after Les Verts substitute Gonzalo Bergessio missed a second-half penalty that could have earned his struggling side a share of the points.
Marouane Chamakh headed in Wendel's inswinging set-piece in the 13th minute to set Laurent Blanc's side on their way, and Brazilian midfielder Wendel made it 2-0 with a sublime curling free-kick on the half hour.
Wendel and Yoann Gourcuff shot wide as Bordeaux chased a third before Bakary Sako pulled the visitors back into the game with a ferocious 20-yard free-kick that sang its way into the roof of the Bordeaux goal on the cusp of half-time.
Bordeaux goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso was kept on his toes in the second half, notably tipping a Blaise Matuidi drive over the bar, before Chamakh gave the visitors a lifeline by inexplicably handling the ball inside his own box. Bergessio woefully dragged his spotkick wide, though, with Wendel then tapping home his second from Yoan Gouffran's centre to seal a timely victory prior to Bordeaux's League Cup semi-final at Lorient on Wednesday.
"There are adjustments we can make, but if we show our qualities like we did in the first half, we'll do well," said Wendel. "We have what it takes, we feel good, there's no need to change things just for the sake of it, but we have to stick together. I feel like we got back on track tonight."
Earlier, Auxerre bounced back from their humiliating 5-0 defeat against bottom club Grenoble last weekend to bolster their push for a European place with a 1-0 win at home to Rennes. Polish striker Ireneusz Jelen notched a hat-trick in Auxerre's 4-0 French Cup win over third-tier Plabennec in the week and he proved the match-winner again against Rennes.
The 28-year-old was a threat to the visitors' defence throughout the first half and claimed his reward three minutes from half-time, delicately sweeping home from 35 yards after Rennes goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez fluffed his clearance. "We dominated the first half with lots of chances and one goal," said Auxerre midfielder Delvin NDinga.
"In the second half it was much more difficult for us, but the team is strong and Jelen's goal just before half-time came at the right moment to push us towards victory," he said.
Auxerre climb one place to sixth in the standings, level on 42 points with fifth-placed Marseille and nine points behind Bordeaux, while Rennes stay eighth, six points outside the European places.
In Sunday's other early game, Lorient drew 1-1 at home to Toulouse. Top scorer Kevin Gameiro gave Lorient a 56th-minute lead but Toulouse drew level through a fine volley by Norwegian winger Daniel Braaten 12 minutes from time.