European hopefuls Saint-Etienne boost chances in win over Sochaux
St Etienne kept the pressure on third-placed Lille and avoided a third successive league defeat with a confident 3-1 win over 10-man Sochaux.
With Lille due to visit Monaco in the final game of the weekend, Les Verts moved within two points of the final Champions League spot thanks to a Franck Tabanou strike sandwiched in between a Mevlut Erding brace.
The hosts began the brighter and looked to stamp their authority early on but Tabanou headed over Yohann Pele's bar from a promising position before Benjamin Corgnet saw his decent effort saved well by the visiting keeper.
St Etienne continued to press for an opener and only a superb stop from Pele prevented Yohan Mollo from finding the back of the net with a 20-yard drive before Stophira Sunzu arrived to block Brandao on the follow-up.
The scores remained level at the break but, undeterred by their lack of success in front of goal so far, the hosts wasted no time in breaking the deadlock after the interval.
Mollo's perfect delivery was met by Erding and the Turkey international's deft header beat Pele with just 60 seconds gone in the second half to set Les Verts on their way. And things got even better for Ligue 1's fourth-placed side just five minutes later when Tabanou added a second. Renaud Cohade saw his stunning volley matched by Pele but the Sochaux goalkeeper could not hold onto the ball and Tabanou was on hand to prod the ball home.
The hosts should have added a third when Pele flapped at a cross and Brandao thought he had added his first of the game but Sunzu blocked before Sochaux were offered a glimmer of hope at the other end. Sebastian Corchia and Cedric Bakambu combined well before picking out Edouard Butin in the area and the substitute was left with a simple task of tucking the ball home with Stephane Ruffier caught out of position.
However, any thoughts of a comeback were duly quashed with 10 minutes left to play when Bakambu handled the ball and referee Benoit Millot showed no hesitation in showing the Sochaux striker his second yellow card of the day.
The points were all but wrapped up for the hosts as injury-time approached when Brandao wriggled his way to the byline before pulling the ball back into the path of Erding and he did the rest with his left foot to restore Sochaux's two-goal advantage.
Later on Sunday, Lyon moved within three points of fourth-placed Lille with a hard-fought 1-0 win in Guingamp.
Bafetimbi Gomis' 11th goal of the season just after the interval proved to be enough to bring an end to a run of two successive defeats for Les Gones folliwing Thursday's Europa League defeat in Plzen.
Alexandre Lacazette almost got Les Gones off to a perfect start but his stinging effort brought a smart save out of Mamadou Samassa before opposing goalkeeper Anthony Lopes turned Rachid Alioui's shot around the post moments later.
Guingamp began to find their feet and Thibaut Giresse was the next to test the hands of Lopes when his 25-yard free-kick looked like nestling in the bottom corner before Lyon's shot-stopper intervened.
Lacazette continued to threaten the hosts defence and twice went close to an opening goal but Samassa turned his first time shot around the post before the France Under-21 international fired over after Mouhamadou Dabo found him inside the area as half-time approached.
Lyon did not have to wait long after the break for that elusive opener when the lively Lacazette found Gomis inside the area and, with the help of a deflection, his shot beat Samassa before nestling in the back of the net.
Guingamp almost hit back straight away when Moustapha Diallo rose above Bakary Kone to power Giresse's corner at goal but, not for the first time in the match, Lopes was equal to it and pushed the ball to safety.
The hosts continued to press Lyon in search of a leveller but Lopes was proving to be a difficult opponent to beat and he saved again from an Alioui snapshot as Remi Garde's men lived dangerously.
Jocelyn Gourvennec must have thought his side had made the decisive breakthrough with 10 minutes left to play when Ladislas Douniama released Mana Dembele through on goal but the former Clermont Foot striker inexplicably fired wide of the target with only Lopes to beat.
That proved to be the hosts undoing and, after Diallo headed wide of the right post with just a few minutes left, Guingamp were made to pay for the their wastefulness.