OGC Nice ensured a Ligue 1 podium finish for the first time since 1976 with a 3-1 home win over AS Nancy Lorraine on Saturday that also keeps them in the thick of the title hunt.
OGC Nice 3-1 AS Nancy Lorraine
With Mario Balotelli suspended and Alassane Plea laid low with a knee injury until next season, Nice were relying on Mickaël Le Bihan to lead their line as he made his first L1 start since September 2015.
Opportunities were scarce, though, for the former Le Havre AC man as Nice dominated possession but did little with it of note in their opponent’s penalty area with Lucien Favre’s men seemingly having failed to note their kick-off had been brought forward as a result of AS Monaco’s rescheduled game in midweek at Dortmund.
At the opposite end, the hosts showed rare generosity to enable Nancy to go in front. Having lost their previous five away games, Pablo Correa’s men could not have hoped for a better opportunity to seize the initiative with Valentin Eysseric badly miskicking inside his own box.
Julien Cetout forced the ball across goal, and Maurice Dalé simply had to tap home for his second goal in two games after his strike against Stade Rennais last weekend (26′).
Nice, unbeaten at home all season, were level ten minutes later. Le Bihan turned swiftly after Younes Belhanda had poked a pass through to him, and sidefooted low beyond Guy Roland Ndy Assembé for his third goal of the season (36′).
A minute later, Ricardo Pereira fired just wide from outside the box (37′) as Nice threatened to take a half-time lead they had barely deserved. Instead, they moved in front early in the second half and certainly did deserve to do so.
Dia the villain
Eysseric forced a good save from Ndy Assembé within a minute of the restart (46′) and Jean Michaël Seri sent a free-kick just wide (48′) before putting Nice ahead.
Issiar Dia, the hero with two goals as Nancy ended a nine-game winless run against Rennes last weekend, turned villain as he clumsily fouled Dalbert inside the box — Seri sent his spot-kick down the middle as Ndy Assembé went to his right (51′).
Nancy should have levelled when Youssef Aït Bennasser was given a clear sight of goal, but the Morocco international shot wide (66′) and the visitors’ chance was gone.
Instead, Le Bihan fired narrowly over (71′) before Seri raced from midfield to latch onto Eysseric’s pass to shoot across Ndy Assembé and into the far corner (84′) to earn Favre’s men a shot at UEFA Champions League football and leave them a point off top spot ahead of Monaco’s game at home to Dijon on Saturday evening.
THE PLAYER: Jean Michaël Seri
The Ivory Coast international is usually a creator rather than a taker of chances, but finished his two opportunities coolly.
THE STAT: 0
Nice remain unbeaten at home this season — this was their 13th win in their 17th league match at the Allianz Riviera.