Montpellier damages Saint-Etienne’s Champions League dream

SAINT-ETIENNE, France (AP) — Striker Gaetan Laborde scored the only goal as Montpellier damaged Saint-Etienne’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League next season with a 1-0 away win in the French league on Friday.

In a tense and cagey game that featured two red cards, Laborde broke the deadlock in the 64th minute with a low and precise low shot from outside the box.

It came just after former Montpellier player Remy Cabella, who created Saint-Etienne’s best moves in the first half, was sent off for a second yellow card. Cabella, who excelled last weekend in his team’s 3-2 win at Monaco, left the pitch in tears.

Following a red card for Montpellier defender Daniel Congre in the 53rd minute for a clumsy and dangerous tackle, Cabella’s dismissal was a turning point as the visitors took control of the match in the last half hour with solid defending and dangerous counterattacks.

A win would have lifted Saint-Etienne to third place with two games left to play. Instead, fifth-place Montpellier pulled within four points of them and can still clinch a Europa League spot.

Saint-Etienne, the most decorated French club with 10 league titles, last played in Europe’s top tournament in 1981, five years after losing to Bayern Munich in the final. It remains one point behind third-place Lyon, which travels to Marseille on Sunday.

With Paris Saint-Germain already crowned champion, Lille looks all but guaranteed an automatic place in next season’s Champions League. The northern side has a six-point lead over Lyon ahead of its home match against Bordeaux.

Saint-Etienne forward Robert Beric should have leveled with five minutes left when he found himself unmarked in the box but his weak header was easily stopped by Montpellier goalkeeper Benjamin Lecomte.