Saint-Etienne closes gap on Lille with win
SAINT-ETIENNE, France (AP) -- Saint-Etienne made up ground in the race for a Champions League spot by defeating third-place Lille 2-0 Friday in the French league.
Brazilian striker Brandao opened the scoring with a header in the 55th minute before winger Franck Tabanou volleyed home from close range to double the lead in the 61st.
Lille was down to 10 men in the 62nd when midfielder Florent Balmont was red-carded for dissent.
Saint-Etienne bounced back from a French Cup elimination against fourth-division side Cannes on Tuesday to pull within three points of Lille.
''The team that wanted it the most tonight won the match,'' Saint-Etienne coach Christophe Galtier said. ''We showed courage to make things happen. My players were rewarded for their efforts.''
The hosts struggled to provide some decent service to Brandao in a tactical first half. Lille center back David Rozehnal cleared dangerous crosses from Saint-Etienne wingers Romain Hamouma in the 27th and Tabanou in the 33rd.
The visitors did not create much either but were more threatening from set pieces. Lille defender Simon Kjaer headed a corner over the bar in the third minute before Salomon Kalou connected with a free kick from Balmont in the ninth for a header that Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier palmed away.
One accurate final ball made the difference in the second half. A cross from Saint-Etienne leftback Faouzi Ghoulam eluded the Lille defense, but Brandao beat the offside trap to head in at the far post.
Six minutes later, Tabanou converted a rebound after Lille goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama parried a volley from Hamouma. Balmont spotted a foul from Tabanou in the build-up to the goal and argued with the referee, who sent off the Lille midfielder.
''I told him there was a foul and that it was a disgrace,'' Balmont said. ''In the heat of the discussion, I told him he was rubbish. To me, that's not an insult, that's what is frustrating. But he took it as an insult.''
Saint-Etienne could have added a third goal in the 78th but Tabanou failed to convert from six yards a low cross from Hamouma.
Ruffier kept a clean sheet by saving a close-range effort from Lille substitute Ryan Mendes in the 86th.
''We played for about an hour and then we faded after conceding that goal,'' Lille coach Rene Girard said. ''We gave up. We will sort out those problems together. It's in the heads. We will have to put a few heads in the fridge. We must get back to things that are more down to earth.''
On Saturday, it's: Marseille vs. Valenciennes; Bastia vs. Bordeaux; Lorient vs. Guingamp: Nice vs. Ajaccio; Rennes vs. Evian; and Sochaux vs. Montpellier.
On Sunday, leader Paris Saint-Germain hosts Nantes, Monaco visits Toulouse and Lyon faces Reims.