Striker Olivier Giroud’s hat trick led Montpellier to a 3-1 win at Sochaux on Saturday, keeping the pressure on big-spending Paris Saint-Germain at the top of the French league.
Montpellier’s win took it three points clear ahead of PSG’s match at bitter rival Marseille on Sunday.
Giroud was recently called up into the France team, and he showed why with two clinical late finishes for his 10th and 11th goals of the season after a somewhat fortuitous opener in the 50th minute.
Abdoul Camara equalized for Sochaux in the 84th following a goal-mouth scramble, but Giroud struck in the 87th and 89th minutes to seal the win, taking his league-leading tally to 11 goals.
Later Saturday, Lille was at home to Brest.
In Saturday’s other matches, it was: Bordeaux 2, Caen 0; Nancy 1, Dijon 2; Rennes 3, Evian 2; Saint-Etienne 3, Ajaccio 1, and Toulouse 2, Valenciennes 0.
Giroud is trying to force his way into Laurent Blanc’s France squad for next year’s European Championship, and is only one goal short of matching his league total from last season.
Giroud poked home his first goal from close range after winger John Utaka’s shot was blocked. The rebound trickled toward the line and appeared to be going in, but Giroud made sure by putting the ball into the net
After Camara had replied, Giroud smashed a loose ball into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area and then ran onto a long pass from midfielder Younes Belhanda before finishing low into the opposite corner.
Giroud’s strike partner, Souleymane Camara, and defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa drew saves from goalkeeper Teddy Richert early on. Belhanda twice tried his luck with shots, and Utaka also went close in the first half.
Sochaux rarely threatened, but almost took a surprise lead when Ryad Boudebouz picked out midfielder Loic Poujol and he headed just wide.
Rennes, meanwhile, scored twice in the last 15 minutes to move up to fourth, two points ahead of Toulouse in fifth.
Winger Julien Feret latched onto Jean-Armel Kana-Biyik’s pass to score for Rennes in the 10th minute. Veteran midfielder Cedric Barbosa leveled shortly after with a shot from outside the penalty area, and Daniel Wass gave Evian the lead in the 32nd.
But Youssouf Hadji made it 2-2 and Feret’s penalty in the 87th sealed a comeback win before Kana-Biyick was sent off.
Midfielders Paulo Machado and Antoine Devaux scored Toulouse’s goals either side of halfitme.
Saint-Etienne climbed up to seventh place.
Former Leeds winger Max-Alain Gradel put Saint-Etienne ahead in the seventh minute and Florent Sinama-Pongolle made it 2-0 before halftime.
Shortly after Pongolle’s goal, last-place Ajaccio had Leyti N’Diaye sent off, but it got back into the game in the 60th when defender Fousseni Diawara pulled a goal back.
Romania midfielder Banel Nicolita Saint-Etienne’s win late on.
Bordeaux got only its third win of the season and moved away from the relegation zone thanks to goals from Yoan Gouffran and Anthony Modeste.
Nancy stays in the bottom three places after surrendering a late goal to Dijon.
Eric Bautheac’s early penalty gave Dijon the lead after striker Brice Jovial was fouled. Forward Djamel Bakar equalized for Nancy in the 28th, but Younousse Sankhare’s 83rd-minute goal secured Dijon’s win.
On Sunday, Marseille’s turbulent season could get worse if it loses to PSG.
Marseille is in 10th place and also lost 1-0 at home against Olympiakos on Wednesday. Coach Didier Deschamps had a dressing room row with striker Andre-Pierre Gignac before that match and dropped him from his squad for Sunday’s game.
In Sunday’s other matches, Lyon looks to bounce back from a disappointing 0-0 home draw with Ajax in the Champions League when it travels to Auxerre, and Lorient is at home to 19th-place Nice.