Lille moves ahead in race for third place
PARIS (AP) — Early and late goals helped third-place Lille beat relegation struggler Sochaux 2-0 in the French league on Saturday to move three points clear of Saint-Etienne in the race for a Champions League place.
The 18-year-old Belgian forward Divock Origi headed in from veteran midfielder Florent Balmont’s corner in the third minute. Then, Ryan Mendes replaced Origi up front and sealed the win in the third minute of injury time after a quick counterattack.
Up until the mid-season break shortly before Christmas, Lille had been challenging table-toppers Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco, but this was coach Rene Girard’s first win in five league games after a dismal run of three defeats and a draw.
“They are three important points for us, but it’s too early to say whether I’m reassured,” Girard said. “We scored at the start and at the end, and in between we had a few scares. The lads put in a lot of effort tonight.”
Earlier, winger Dimitri Payet scored twice and striker Andre Pierre Gignac grabbed his 17th goal of the season as Marseille beat Bastia 3-0.
“We’re trying to improve,” Marseille coach Jose Anigo said. “If we apply ourselves we can cause teams a lot of problems. But I’m not going to look too far ahead.”
Reims won 2-1 at Guingamp to move up to sixth place, with midfielders Odair Fortes and Floyd Ayite canceling out forward Rachid Alioui’s opener for the home side.
Also, highly rated winger Remy Cabella got his ninth league goal as Montpellier rallied to salvage a point in a 1-1 home draw against lowly Evian, Ghanaian forward Majeed Waris scored a late winner as Valenciennes won 2-1 against Nice, and Ajaccio remains in last place, despite beating Rennes 3-1 at home.
Payet, who has found his form again for Marseille after struggling for several months, struck twice within the first 25 minutes and Gignac scored early into the second half with his 11th league goal of the campaign — only two less than he managed all last season.
Gignac has also turned into a provider, as he set up Payet’s first goal in the 13th minute after a superb one-two between them. Payet’s second goal was even better as he struck a 25-meter shot straight into the top corner.
“That’s what Dimitri is like. He’s got a good touch, he’s talented,” Anigo said. “We worked on Payet playing in a deeper role this week. Sometimes you sense things in training. Maybe it won’t ever work again, but today it worked.”
Gignac showed good reflexes in the 55th to pounce on the loose ball after midfielder Gianelli Imbula’s strike came back off the crossbar and finished confidently past goalkeeper Jean-Louis Leca with a neat half-volley.
Former Marseille striker Djibril Cisse made little impact for Bastia.
Leader PSG can move eight points clear if it wins at second-place Monaco on Sunday.