While Montpellier and PSG were duelling at distance for the Ligue 1 title in Brittany and Burgundy, an exciting end to the season was being played out in matches all over the country, with three teams competing for the final Europa League place, and an amazing eight teams battling to avoid the two remaining relegation places. The Europa battle was gripping, with fifth place changing hands six times throughout the evening, whilst the relegation battled turned out to be slightly anti-climactic.
Rennes vs Dijon
This match affected matters at both ends of the table, with the home side needing a big win to have a chance of stealing fifth place and Europa League football, and the away team lying second bottom and needing a win to have a chance of survival. However, the match was never in doubt from the moment Montano opened the scoring for Rennes in the ninth minute. Sankharé’s dismissal for Dijon just before half-time did not help their cause, and Rennes ran riot in the second half, a Kembo brace and goals from Pitroipa and Hadji sealing a 5-0 win. Dijon finished the match with nine men, Zarour also receiving his marching orders, as the Burgundian side were relegated with a whimper. As for Rennes, they had done their part, but needed to rely on a result elsewhere…
Saint-Etienne vs Bordeaux
Coincidence dictated that the two other teams vying for fifth place played each other. Bordeaux were in the box seat, beginning the day one point ahead of Rennes and the evening’s opponents and knowing that a win would seal their Europa League place; Les Verts knew that they needed to win and hope for, at worst, a narrow Rennes victory. The contest, between two evenly matched teams with much to play for, met all expectations, swinging one way and then the other. The home side took the lead mid-way through the first half, Guilavogui meeting an Aubameyang cross with a superb volley into the bottom right hand corner, and momentarily taking fifth place from Rennes, who had moved to virtual fifth with their early goal. Les Girondins were level within five minutes though, Diabaté leaping to power a pin-point Tremoulinas cross past Ruffier. Advantage Rennes again. However, a third goal in 11 minutes moved Bordeaux back up to fifth, Diabaté doubling his and his team’s account by stealing in at the far post to nod in Obraniak’s improvised karate kick cross. Four minutes into the second half, the Geoffroy-Guichard fans’ hopes were raised as top scorer Aubameyang leapt high to head past Carrasso. However, the crowd became increasingly subdued as news of Rennes’ routing of Dijon meant that they needed not only to win, but to win handsomely. Perhaps inevitably it was Bordeaux who took the victory, Diabaté turning provider to play Gouffran in to score. A great finish to the season for Francis Gillot’s men, six straight wins securing Bordeaux’s European place. A tale of what might have been for Saint-Etienne and Rennes.
Toulouse vs Ajaccio
The surprise scoreline of the evening came in the ville rose, where Ajaccio, beginning the evening in the relegation zone and away to a team with one of the strongest home and defensive records in the league, seemed nailed-on for relegation. However, an excellent performance, matching desire and skill, secured a 2-0 win for the Corsicans, Johan Cavalli’s first half brace making him the hero. A positive end to the season for Olivier Pantaloni’s men (it would have been awkward had one of the manager of the year nominees been relegated) and Ligue 1 can look forward to a couple of Corsican derbies next season!
Valenciennes vs Caen
With Ajaccio climbing out of the relegation zone mid-way through the first half, the team in immediate danger was Caen. And in truth, they rarely looked like getting a result against a team that also started the day with a slim chance of relegation. A goal late in the first half from Aboubakar relaxed home nerves and Danic doubled the lead with a penalty. A Nivet goal gave Caen 13 minutes to salvage their Ligue 1 status, but a Cohade goal three minutes from time made it 3-1 and snuffed out any lingering Caen hopes and they are relegated after two years in the top flight.
Evian vs Brest
Brest’s fans would no doubt have had some anxious moments as news of Ajaccio’s goals reached them, but Caen remained below them all evening and, even though they would have stayed up in defeat, they secured their Ligue 1 status in style, with a 1-0 win at mid-table Evian. Isaam Jemaa was the match-winner, scoring for only the fourth time this season, and despite criticism at the late sacking of Alex Dupont, the appointment of Corentin Martins did seem to give Brest the uplift needed to remain standing proud in Ligue 1.
Sochaux vs Brest
Sochaux also began the day in danger of the drop, although the recent form of both teams suggested that les Lionceaux were capable of getting a result to ensure their safety against an OM team with little to play for and who were starting with a very makeshift defence. As expected, the home team secured the win, a blistering volley by Ryad Boudebouz in his (and Marvin Martin’s) expected last home appearance at the Bonal, winning the three points as the match ended 1-0. The only other action to note was Stephane Mbia’s late red card, on his birthday, for OM.
Lyon vs Nice
Nice also began the evening with a slim chance of relegation, and facing the daunting task of having to get a result at the Gerland. However, they kept their top flight position in style, with a swashbuckling 4-3 win in what was surely the match of the evening. The home side, with fourth place secured, took an early two goal lead through Lisandro Lopez and Jimmy Briand, but Nice were level at the break through two quick-fire goals from Fabian Monzon and Kafoumba Coulibaly. A worrying flap from Hugo Lloris (against his former team) gave Nice the lead, which was then cancelled out by Briand’s second. Nice had the final word, however, Portuguese striker Gonçalves with an excellent solo effort.
Lille vs Nancy
This was the only match of the evening where neither team had anything to play for and so should have been a low-key affair. However, it still made the news due to one man… In les Dogues’ final match at their current home, Eden Hazard hogged the headlines with a hat-trick in a frantic first half in which all the goals were scored in Lille’s 4-1 win. Hazard’s early opener was cancelled out by Reynald Lemaitre, but the out-going champions, led by the league’s player of the year, took control. First he began the move from which Tulio De Melo restored the lead. He then scored two more, the second a penalty, to complete his first hat-trick, in what is sure to be his last appearance for Lille. Indeed, he did his best to keep attention on him to the end, assuring everyone that he would reveal his new club after the final whistle … only to announce that he hadn’t yet decided.
Champions League: PSG, Lille
Europa League: Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille
Relegated: Auxerre, Dijon, Caen
Promoted: Bastia, Stade de Reims, Troyes