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Football | France

Montpellier march on in Toulouse



Montpellier pulled five points clear of Paris Saint Germain at the top of the French league on the back of a 1-0 win at Toulouse on Friday.

Rene Girard's men kept the wheels firmly on their surprise title bid with an early goal from Younes Belhanda to move them up to 72 points.

PSG can reduce their deficit with victory at Lille on Sunday.

Irrespective of their fate in the title race this win earned Montpellier a first ever appearance in the Champions League next season, as they are now guaranteed a top three finish.

Not bad for a side that only gained promotion to the top flight in 2009.

"This was an important game," said Girard.

"I'm thrilled with the way the boys performed. We had bags of energy, bags of ambition, and showed lots of control. This continued what we've been doing since the start of the season."

Montpellier went into a lightning lead when Moroccan international Belhanda caught the Toulouse defence napping to shoot past Ali Ahamada by the near post with the game only three minutes old.

Pantxi Sirieix's volley after the quarter of an hour mark went close to getting Toulouse back on level terms.

On 28 minutes, only a rearguard action on the goalline by Montpellier defender Vitorino Hilton denied Franck Tabanou's close range effort.

Down at the other end Belhanda had the Toulouse back row in a panic when he skilfully crossed into the box but his intended recipient, Olivier Giroud, was unable to finish off the move.

Shortly after Giroud rose to meet Chilean midfielder Marco Estrada's freekick. And having seen off his marker, Aymen Abdennour, the striker's header was only denied by Ahamada's reflex save.

Montpellier went into the break after a free-flowing first half ahead despite Toulouse enjoying greater possession.

A minute after emerging for the second half Montpellier's John Utaka forced Ahamada into evasive action after the Nigerian forward rounded two defenders to try his luck at a tight angle by the near post.

Drama erupted in the 56th minute when Tabanou's hand connected with Estrada's 25m freekick.

Giroud, the top scorer in the French league, stepped up to take the penalty but his spot-kick, low and aimed at the right post, lacked menace leaving Ahamada with a relatively straightforward save.

Montpellier keeper Geoffrey Jourdren was then forced into action, having to block Emmanuel Rivieres's shot from point blank range on 65 minutes.

In the last quarter, the south coast visitors held firm to take another major step towards a first ever Ligue 1 crown with four games of the season remaining.

"A five point lead will put the pressure on PSG, we hope Lille get a good result against them," commented Giroud.

Jourdren rated the result "one of our best this season".

He added: "We've guaranteed a top three finish. now we'll wait on the Lille v PSG result..."

In Friday's late kick-off Lorient inflicted a 2-1 defeat on Marseille to extend the troubled south coast giant's winless league run to 13 matches.

Goals from Arnold Mvuemba and Kevin Monnet-Paquet consigned Marseille to further misery with Mathieu Valbuena pulling one back for the visitors.

Friday's matches were brought forward so as not to clash with Saturday's French Cup final featuring third-tier Quevilly and Lyon.

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