Montpellier HSC have been crowned champions of France for the first time in the club’s history. John Utaka scored twice as La Paillade come from behind to beat relegated Auxerre 2-1. The game will be remembered more for the off-field actions but nothing should take the gloss off Montpellier’s achievement.
The Ligue 1 leaders went into the game knowing that anything but a defeat would be enough to lift Le Championnat, but although already relegated to Ligue 2, the home side came to play, they obviously didn’t want the Stade de l’Abbe Deschamps hosting Montpellier’s title party.
Veteran midfielder Olivier Kapo gave the home side a shock lead after 20 minutes heading Roy Contout’s corner past a stranded Geoffrey Jourdren. It took Rene Girard’s side just over 12 minutes to level the score. Souleymane Camara made some space down the left, his cross was low and hard and found John Utaka unmarked at the back post and the Nigerian tucked away from close range.
The players had barely played five minutes of the second half when they had to leave the pitch due to the Auxerre fans protests at their club’s predicament. The fans behind the goal covered Geoffrey Jourdren’s goal in toilet paper and then littered the pitch with tennis balls.
Around 10 minutes past before the players were allowed back on the pitch. Now the game was four minutes behind title rivals PSG at Lorient. The capital side would come back from 1-0 down to lead 2-1 through goals from Javier Pastore and Thiago Motta. Back in Burgundy Olivier Giroud would go close, Olivier Sorin saving two shots in quick succession from Ligue 1’s top scorer.
There was a nervous energy around the game, with PSG ahead the Montpellier players must have sensed the need for a 2nd goal, and it nearly went against them when Auxerre pushed forward and Delvin Ndinga hit a vicious long-range shot that Jourdren did very well to push clear of the goal. Ndinga’s shot was quickly followed by a flare being thrown onto the pitch by the Auxerre fans and for the second time the players would have to stop play. The game was delayed for over 20 minutes, during that time the other nine games in Ligue 1 would finish and the pressure would be left all on Montpellier to go and win the league.
After riot police would get involved in the home stand the game would finally get back under way with around 17 minutes remaining. It would only take Nigerian international John Utaka five minutes to score his and Montpellier’s second. Receiving the ball on the edge of the box he would turn onto his left foot, spin and fire the ball low past Sorin and sent the travelling La Paillade fans into dreamland.
Close to two hours and 30 minutes after the game started the final whistle finally sounded and confirmed Montpellier as Champions of France. It is the first time in the clubs history that they have lifted the greatest prize in French football, and few will argue that it has been well deserved.
From coach Rene Girard who only spend €2 million on summer signings to the various members of Montpellier’s youth set-up that have made this possible and of course Owner Louis Nicollin, the most eccentric owner in Ligue 1. In a football world consumed with teams spending millions upon millions trying to win their own domestic league, it is a breathe of fresh air to see a team costing so little playing excellent football and unexpectedly going all the way to the title.
ALLEZ LA PAILLADE!