Lille shows flair and resilience to win 3-2 at Nimes
PARIS (AP) — Lille showed the attacking flair and resilient qualities befitting a side challenging for second place, winning 3-2 at Nimes on Sunday despite playing most of the French league match with 10 men.
It has been some turnaround for Lille, which is second nearing the halfway point, having narrowly avoided relegation last season. The fact it did so was largely down to a career-high 13 league goals from striker Nicolas Pepe.
The 23-year-old Pepe is well set to smash his own record, and took his tally to 12 so far this season with a fine goal against Nimes midway through the second half. It moves Pepe level with Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe and Nantes striker Emiliano Sala at the top of the French league scoring charts.
Nimes scored again two minutes into injury time through Clement Depres’ header and hit the crossbar in the fifth minute of added-on time.
Lille was leading 1-0 thanks to forward Rafael Leao’s fourth-minute header when center half and captain Jose Fonte was shown a red card in the 16th for remonstrating angrily with a fourth official after a throw-in was awarded to Nimes. Lille coach Christophe Galtier was also irate and sent to the stands for the rest of the game.
Despite the setback, Lille went 2-0 ahead close to halftime through Jonathan Bamba’s deflected strike, with Pepe involved in the move.
Then Pepe scored the goal of the game, running from deep and accelerating away before finishing with a powerful strike past goalkeeper Paul Bernardoni, while striker Rachid Alioui quickly got one back for 10th-placed Nimes.
Lille is 10 points behind runaway leader Paris Saint-Germain, which has played two fewer matches, and three ahead of third-placed Lyon.
LYON COASTS TO WIN
Forward Nabil Fekir scored for the second time in a matter of days as Lyon beat a weak Monaco side 3-0.
Fekir scored a superb goal to secure a 1-1 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday, sending Lyon into Monday’s draw for the last 16 of the Champions League.
NICE FINALLY CONCEDES
After a club record six straight league games without allowing a goal, Nice drew 1-1 at home to Saint-Etienne.
Striker Lois Diony’s 54th-minute goal was the first let in by Nice since a 1-0 home loss to Marseille on Oct. 21.
After both sides were shown a red card, Nice midfielder Wylan Cyprien equalized from the penalty spot in the 81st.
Saint-Etienne is in fifth place and Nice is seventh.
Only four matches went ahead this weekend, with one moved to Tuesday and five postponed at the request of authorities. Police forces across the country are stretched amid anti-government protests and in the wake of a deadly Christmas market attack this week in Strasbourg.
A minute’s silence was held in the first and second divisions this weekend in memory of the Strasbourg victims and their families.