Lyon moved back to the summit of Ligue 1 this evening with a somewhat unconvincing draw against local rivals Saint-Etienne.
Olympique Lyonnais 1-1 Saint-Etienne
Buoyed by the fact that both Bordeaux and Olympique de Marseille had dropped points earlier today, Lyon knew that victory against local rivals Saint-Etienne would see them not only reclaim top spot in Ligue 1, but also extend their lead in comparison to the meagre one point it sat at this morning. Sainte, though, would prove combative opponents, eager to edge their way out of the relegation zone after Sochaux’s shock win earlier today landed them plum in trouble.
For much of the first half, the visitors would offer stubborn resistance and it would not be until the closing stages of the opening period that Lyon would really threaten with some consistent pressure in front of the visiting goal. That said, Hugo Lloris in the home net was barely threatened in the first half; Mirallas was presented with a very decent opportunity on the edge of the box but blazed over after ten minutes while Yohan Benalouane controlled in the box and snapped a shot at goal from a free-kick that Lloris brilliantly turned away, although the effort would not have counted due to a handball.
Much of Lyon’s play in the first half was restricted to being in front of Saint-Etienne’s defence. A couple of Juninho free-kicks in the early stages forced the uncertain looking Jeremy Janot to punch clear but les Gones were largely restricted to long range efforts that flew well off target. Even Karim Benzema was adequately stifled by Sainte, for whom Blaise Matuidi and Yohann Hautcoeur were tireless workers in the centre of the field.
In the closing stages of the half, Lyon started to finally exert some real pressure. Dabo was forced into a dramatic last ditch challenge to atone for his own error before Juninho found room on the edge of the box and fired a shot towards the corner of Janot’s net that squirmed away from the stopper and out for a corner. From that kick Fabio Santos found room at the far post but his effort appeared to be inadvertently blocked by Benzema. Still Sainte could not clear their lines adequately and, as the ball was against recycled, Benzema found space to shoot towards the top corner of the net only for Janot to foil him with an over-dramatic stop.
The opening moments of the second half so no less than three key momentum shifting moments After a bright start to the second period from Lyon, they contrived to fall behind. Frederic Piquionne looked to have a fine chance in the visiting penalty box but stumbled under no pressure, allowing Sainte to break. Neat play from Ilan and then Dimitri Payet saw the latter feed a ball through to Mirallas, whose cheeky finish over Lloris gave les Verts a shock lead.
But this advantage would last barely three minutes. Benzema drew a free-kick on the corner of the penalty area. Right-footed, Juninho bent a low shot across the face of goal and into the net. Although Janot would blame the defensive wall, replays suggested that fingers should perhaps be pointed at the visiting ‘keeper.
With the momentum in their favour, Lyon appeared set to win the game before the game took the final of its key twists. In frustration, presumably at his earlier bad fortune in front of goal, Piquionne challenged Dabo over-zealously and was promptly shown a second yellow and, therefore, a red card.
The dynamics of the game were completely changed in this second as Saint-Etienne now began to control possession as Lyon sat back and became the passive side. For the most part les Gones were comfortable. Indeed, Lloris did not have a single serious save to make, aside from comfortably plucking a well struck Dernis drive out of the air.
Equally, there was little threat at the opposite end of the field as Matuidi and Hautcoeur doubled their efforts in the visiting midfield as the game continued to be played at a pulsating and very entertaining pace.
Despite the lack of chances, Lyon, who looked a tired side, did exert some late pressure, however, Benzema chose to shot from an outrageously tight angle from a free-kick when a cross would have been the better option.
Ultimately, a point a piece was the fairest result, although it neither does Lyon’s title push nor Saint-Etienne’s battle against the drop a great deal of good.
OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS 1-1 SAINT-ETIENNE
0-1 50’ Kevin Mirallas
1-1 53’ Juninho
Lyon: Lloris; Fabio Santos, Grosso, Boumsong, Cris; Kallstrom (Mounier, 70’), Toulalan, Juninho (Makoun, 78’); Delgado (Ederson, 32’), Piquionne, Benzema
Yellow Card: Piquionne 41’
Red Card: Piquionne 54’
Saint-Eteinne: Janot; Varrault, Dabo, Benalouane, Bayal Sall; Matuidi (Machado, ’87), Hautcoeur, Payet (Dernis, 63’), Ilan, Mirallas (Riviere, 71’); Gomis
Yellow Cards: Hautcoeur 27’, Benalouane 89’