Montpellier widen gap, Hazard rescues Lille
Montpellier blew away Lorient 4-0 to roar five points clear at the top of Ligue 1, as Lille battled to a 3-2 win at bottom side Ajaccio to move into second place.
Geoffrey Dernis put Montpellier 1-0 up at home to Lorient in the first half before Olivier Giroud claimed his 12th goal of the season by slamming home the rebound following a Younes Belhanda free-kick early in the second period.
Giroud, recently capped by France, teed up John Utaka for Montpellier's third in the 62nd minute, with a lofted pass that the Nigerian chested down before toeing the ball past Fabien Audard. Remy Cabella added further gloss to the scoreline with a fourth goal four minutes from time, as Giroud claimed his third assist of the game.
"Lots of things are going for us at the moment," said Giroud. "We'll try to prolong this little dream that we're realising. I continue to believe that this team can qualify for Europe."
Victory took Rene Girard's team six points clear of former leaders Paris Saint-Germain and five points above defending champions Lille, who prevailed at Ajaccio through an 80th-minute penalty from Eden Hazard.
Ajaccio took a second-minute lead through a Christian Kinkela free-kick that brushed Lille's Aurelien Chedjou before nestling in the bottom-left corner but quickfire goals from Ludovic Obraniak and Marko Basa put the away side 2-1 up.
The hosts have won just once all season but they refused to accept their fate and equalised eight minutes before half-time, with Brazilian striker Ilan beating Mickael Landreau after dispossessing Basa on the edge of the box.
Lille coach Rudi Garcia introduced Hazard from the bench in the second half and the move paid off when the Belgian winger dinked a penalty down the middle of the goal after Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi had impeded Florent Balmont.
Hazard also hit the crossbar with a free-kick, but he had already done enough to ensure that his side will go into Wednesday's must-win UEFA Champions League game at home to Trabzonspor in a positive frame of mind.
Rennes could have drawn level with Lille by winning at Nice in Saturday's late game but they lost 2-0 to remain fourth, with the victors climbing one place to 18th, level on points with fourth-bottom Valenciennes.
Nice lost striker Xavier Pentecote to a serious knee injury in the game's early stages but prevailed through first-half goals from Argentinian defenders Fabian Monzon and Renato Civelli. The visitors finished the game with ten men after John Boye was shown a straight red card for a ragged challenge on Anthony Mounier early in the second half.
Saint-Etienne settle with Brest
Nolan Roux and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang each claimed a brace as Saint-Etienne drew 2-2 at Brest, with Gabonese forward Aubameyang clinched a share of the spoils for the visitors with an 86th-minute equaliser.
Evian defeated Valenciennes 2-1, while Sochaux earned a 0-0 draw at Dijon despite Mathieu Peybernes' second-half dismissal for a last-man foul on Brice Jovial.
Eliminated from the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, fourth-placed Rennes visit second-bottom Nice later on Saturday, when victory for Frederic Antonetti's side would take them level on points with Lille.