La Paillade are closing in on the Ligue 1 crown, but it will go down to next weekend's concluding match against Auxerre, where they will need to take a point
In a high-intensity match during which chances were rare, Montpellier’s strength trumped Lille’s finesse, with the hosts creating many of the game’s best opportunities. They found a winner four minutes into second-half stoppage time, with Olivier Giroud setting up substitute Karim Ait Fana to strike the winner.
This game would be played at a breakneck speed throughout, but it was the determination and desire of the home team that would be the overriding characteristic of a first half they showed a degree of control over by bullying the Lille players when they were in possession.
Opportunities at either end of the park were infrequent, but the best came to the home side. Olivier Giroud showed excellent persistence and strength to muscle Mathieu Debuchy off on the left, and from the striker’s cutback, Jamel Saihi should have struck, but the holding midfielder managed to loft the ball over the top.
Remi Cabella would have a strong influence on the match, but when well positioned he had an effort blocked by the Lille right-back.
As an attacking force, the visitors were subdued by the often heavy-handed approach of the hosts that the referee appeared unwilling to curb. Nevertheless, Dimitri Payet had a shot from range curl wide before Benoit Pedretti had a real sight of goal as he moved down the left channel, but Geoffrey Jourdren saved well.
There were no signs of nerves from the league leaders at any point, with their high-intensity approach ruffling the defending champions. Montpellier showed the kind of fluid football that has pushed them to the summit of Ligue 1 early in the second half with a fine break that resulted in Garry Bocaly’s cross being headed goalward by Giroud, only for Mickael Landreau to save athletically.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, who was lucky to finish the match because of his aggressive defending, had a glorious chance to strike following a corner kick, but the centre-back lashed a shot high over the bar from close range. This effort was the culmination of an intense period of pressure in which Cabella’s low drive had also been saved.
Montpellier’s rugged defending restricted opportunities for the guests impressively. Hazard had a sight of goal from a free kick, but his accurate effort was well saved by Jourdren.
As Lille’s desperation grew greater, Montpellier looked increasingly likely to snatch a winning goal, with Hilton heading at Landreau from a free kick before Cabella nearly beat the goalkeeper to a through ball.
Although Rudi Garcia urged his side to push forward, they were unable to draw an error from their guests, and ultimately they were caught over-committing players forward. Giroud broke quickly and showed a cool head to set up a tap in for Ait Fana.
Nothing is decided yet, but Montpellier require only to draw with relegated Auxerre to claim the title next weekend ahead of Paris Saint-Germain, who are three points back.