Belhanda double sends Montpellier clear of PSG
Montpellier's Younes Belhanda celebrates after scoring
MONTPELLIER, France ● A double by Algerian playmaker Younes Belhanda inspired Montpellier to an historic 3-1 win over ailing giants Marseille and sent the winners three points clear of PSG at the top of Ligue 1 on Wednesday.
Belhanda’s brace – a penalty and a stunning second-half scissorkick – along with one from leading scorer Olivier Giroud, taking his total to 19 in the league, propelled them to their first ever win at the Stade Velodrome.
On an excellent night for the unfashionable French club they also improved their goal difference advantage over PSG as well as extending Marseille’s run without a win to 12.
Montpellier coach Rene Girard refused to talk about the title but admitted that his side had taken a huge step towards a maiden Champions League campaign next season.
“The result puts us in the box seat to take one of the top three places (Champions League spots),” he said.
“This is a match that I had categorised as a bonus game, it was important to take something from it.
“Now we have a three point lead over Paris, four points with the goal difference and a 10 point advantage over Lille.”
Marseille coach Didier Deschamps had resorted to desperate measures and opted to hand a rare start to striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, with whom he had a public falling out earlier in the season, as his leading marksman Loic Remy was out with a thigh injury.
However, this was not to prove to be a success and when Deschamps removed Gignac from the fray after an hour, the former Toulouse and French international refused pointedly to shake the coach’s hand.
Marseille fans – who brandished banners with sarcastic comments aimed at the players such as ’10 defeats and counting – we are on our way to making history’ – had said they hoped to give Montpellier a helping hand in their battle with PSG.
Marseille and PSG fans detest each other’s club in equal measure.
However, not even they could have imagined the manner in which central defender Dijimi Traore would help that cause as his blatant handball when he could just as easily headed the ball away handed Montpellier a penalty in the sixth minute.
Although Marseille skipper and goalkeeper Steve Mandanda went the right way, he was unable to stop Belhanda’s penalty giving the visitors the lead.
Marseille did briefly get back into the match when they levelled in the 34th minute as Stephane Mbia headed home.
However, the visitors restored their one goal lead with a nicely worked goal four minutes into the second-half.
Giroud ended the move with a half volley from Souleymane Camara’s excellent cross from the right in a move that started deep inside the visitors half when Benoit Cheyrou was dispossessed.
However, Montpellier saved their best goal for last as Belhanda took the ball on his chest and lashed the ball home from the edge of the area.
For Deschamps it remained a case of him restoring some shattered morale ahead of Saturday’s League Cup final with Lyon which represents their last chance of silverware this season.
“The situation is very complicated, very difficult,” he said.
“We are not going to blame Peter, Paul or Jack.
“We have an important match on Saturday, my job is to prepare the team so that they are in the best possible spirits, as it is the last chance to win a trophy this season.”