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Marseille downs Lorient to keep title aspirations alive

PARIS (AP) -- France winger Mathieu Valbuena scored with a well-struck shot as Marseille won 1-0 at Lorient to keep its slim title hopes alive and strengthen its grip on second place in the French league on Saturday.

Lorient was the better side early on and Marseille scored against the run of play in the 25th minute when Valbuena planted a low shot into the corner from just outside the penalty area.

The win moved Marseille six points behind leader Paris Saint-Germain, which hosts Valenciennes on Sunday. A win would restore PSG's nine-point lead with both teams then having four matches remaining.

"We're holding on to our second place,'' Marseille coach Elie Baup said "There are four games left and 12 points on offer, so it will be tough until the end.''

PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti said on Saturday he was undecided whether he will stay for next season. The Italian wants to wait until the end of the campaign before deciding.

Marseille, which has become a specialist at winning matches 1-0 this season, recorded its seventh straight game without conceding a goal. The south-coast club was five points ahead of Lyon, which hosts Saint-Etienne on Sunday, and seven points clear of Saint-Etienne and Lille.

"It's an important win because Lille dropped points last night, and Lyon and Saint-Etienne are playing each other tomorrow, so obviously one of those teams will drop points, if not both,'' Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda said. "We're carrying on in our own way, with our favorite 1-0 score. We're not going to start playing like Barcelona four matches from the end. We play like we know how to, we work hard for each other.''

The visitors scored moments after Lorient had almost taken the lead when forward Jeremie Aliadiere played in Maxime Baca with a superb flick and his shot was saved by Mandanda. The ball looped up over Mandanda and was hacked off the line by center back Lucas Mendes.

Marseille went straight up the other end and striker Andre-Pierre Gignac forced `keeper Fabien Audard into a great save with a stinging shot that was heading for the bottom corner.

Gignac was involved in the goal, slipping a clever pass to Andre Ayew, whose shot was well saved by Audard. The loose ball fell to Valbuena lurking just outside the penalty area and his strike flew into the net.

"It found the bottom corner,'' Valbuena said. "You have to be accurate as there are always a lot of players around.''

Lorient pushed back hard, as Mandanda made a brilliant leaping save to his right to keep out Maxime Barthelme's swerving shot in the 72nd, and Barthelme hit the crossbar a minute later.

Gignac was taken off on a stretcher near the end after appearing to hurt his ankle in a tackle. Tests later revealed it was only heavy bruising and the former France striker should be back in training next week. Marseille right back Rod Fanni strained his right hamstring and is expected to be out for up to two weeks.

In other matches, it was: Ajaccio 2, Montpellier 1; Bastia 0, Toulouse 0; Bordeaux 0, Reims 0; Brest 0, Rennes 2, and Valenciennes 0, Nancy 0.

Nice faces last-place Troyes in Sunday's other game.

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