Billed as Ligue 1’s game of the season to date, les Verts fought back from a goal down to tie with OM...A pulsating encounter between Ligue 1 leaders Saint-Etienne and defending champions Olympique de Marseille ended 1-1 at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
Andre-Pierre Gignac’s opener, his first goal for OM, came completely against the run of play and arrived in bizarre circumstances. Saint-Etienne’s attempted clearance clattered off referee Stephane Bre, who inadvertently gave possession to Lucho Gonzalez. The Argentine’s lofted pass to his forward colleague was superb, and was matched by the first time finish of the former Toulouse man.
Les Phoceens took confidence from the goal and would strike the woodwork of the home net with a fine long range drive from Mathieu Valbuena coming off the crossbar.
Having used the break to regroup, Sainte drew level with a sweeping move down the left. Blaise Matuidi’s inviting cross dropped to Laurent Batlles eight yards from goal, and the veteran midfielder simply used the pace on the centre to hammer a deserved equaliser.
It was Saint-Etienne who spent the majority of the first period on the front foot. Didier Deschamps had indicated that he had not made any special plans to cope with Dimitri Payet, but the in-form winger was firmly to the fore in the opening half hour as he threw several delicious crosses into the box and drew a fine save from Steve Mandanda with a thumping long range strike.
France Under-21 striker Emmanuel Riviere was another of the hosts to impress in the early stages, going close after three minutes when he touched a Payet cross beyond Mandanda only for Cesar Azpilicueta to sweep the ball from the goal line.
The forward then combined with his right winger once more, breaking beyond the OM defence but dragging his shot wide when Stephane Mbia readied himself to tackle.
Deflated by Gignac’s strike, Christophe Galtier clearly rejuvenated his men at the interval and would threaten through Moustapha Bayal Sall before Batlles’ leveller.
This buoyed Sainte, but they lacked the incision they had shown so frequently in the first half. Payet had a deflected strike loop up into the arms of Mandanda, while at the other end Gignac’s drive from a tough angle drew a very fine save from Jeremie Janot.
Thirteen minutes from time, Sylvain Monsoreau sent a thumping header narrowly over the top as les Verts continued to push for a winning goal but Marseille again replied, drawing a superb block from Janot as he turned away a searing Charles Kabore drive.
In the final minute, Matuidi's looping effort was turned over by Mandanda at full stretch.
Sainte might not have picked up the win they so craved, but they have won yet more respect and may now be seriously taken as potential league winners after another impressive showing.