Souleymane Camara and a Benoit Costil own goal ensured Rene Girard's men moved closer to a first-ever Championnat title with a 2-0 win over les Rouge et NoirMontpellier returned to the top of Ligue 1 with an efficient display in a 2-0 victory over Europa League-chasers Stade Rennes at Stade de Route de la Lorient on Monday night.
Souleymane Camara broke the deadlock after 26 minutes after a defensive lapse which allowed Olivier Giroud to dart in and set up Camara for an easy finish. The lead was doubled in the second half through a Benoit Costil own goal after Remy Cabella's long-range effort came back off the post and struck the prone goalkeeper before bouncing into the net as la Paillade went back to the summit.
Rene Girard's men were without the influential and creative Younes Belhanda due to suspension after the Morocco international's red card in the 2-2 draw with Evian. In came Cabella undertaking playmaking duties with Benjamin Stambouli replacing Joris Marveaux.
Rennes, meanwhile, began with midfielder Yann M'Vila captaining his side in his 88th consecutive league start for les Rouge et Noir.
After watching PSG return to the top of the table on Sunday evening on goals scored, Montpellier could ill-afford to lose this match and throw away the opportunity to claim a first-ever league title. And indeed, they were lucky not to be behind early on in Brittany when Chris Mavinga arrived on the overlap but was denied by a last-ditch tackle.
Rennes, who were unbeaten in nine out of 11 home games against Montpellier, were the better side in the early sparring, and almost took the lead in spectacular fashion. An speculative cross from the right wing was headed away, and Jonathan Pitroipa produced a sublime scissor kick which looped over the goalkeeper, but back off the crossbar.
La Paillade were largely restricted to counterattacks by this point, and were largely kept at bay. Nevertheless, the title challengers took the lead with what turned out to be a real gift from the home side.
John Boye attempted to play the ball out of defence after a failed attack, but was fatally caught in possession by Olivier Giroud. The leading scorer fed through Camara, who fired past Benoit Costil at close range. Camara missed the 96th minute penalty against Evian last week, and began his atonement with his ninth league goal of the season.
Frederic Antoinetti's side sought to improve their game after the setback and were again denied by Geoffrey Jourden after a fierce shot from Razak Boukari was well saved by the Montpellier custodian.
Cabella proved an apt deputy for the suspended Belhanda, with the midfielder forcing a fine save from Costil with a curling free kick from an acute angle towards the end of the first half.
La Paillade might've been ahead, but they certainly weren't dominating. Lady luck continued to smile on Rene Girard's men in the most fortuitous of circumstances.
Cabella found some space in midfield before firing a powerful 20 yard shot towards Costil, which came back off the post and bizarrely came off the goalkeeper's back and into the back of the net for 2-0.
The encounter began to open up with Antoinetti deploying a triple substitution and it almost worked, as Rennes embarked on a period of domination. A fine move, started from Yacine Brahimi towards M'Vila saw the midfielder thread a neat ball towards Pitroipa, whose fierce shot was well saved by Jourden.
The attacking pressure from the hosts was unrelenting, as Pitroipa dribbled through three defenders before his effort was again denied by the goalkeeper. Moments later, M'Vila's pin-point pass towards Victor Montano was also thwarted by Jourden as the visitors held on, despite sustained Rennes pressure late in the game.
Following on from the result, Montpellier are three points ahead of PSG with two games to go. Victory against incumbent champions Lille next weekend could claim a first-ever title for the club should PSG fail to win. Rennes next face Carlo Ancelotti's side at the Parc des Princes.