Montpellier win maiden title on chaotic final day
PARIS (AFP) –
Montpellier claimed the first French league title in their history after winning 2-1 at Auxerre on an extraordinary final day of the season on Sunday, after a game twice delayed due to protests by the home fans.
Second-placed Paris Saint-Germain did all they could by winning 2-1 at Lorient, and the delays at Auxerre meant that Rene Girard’s side had to endure a nervous wait before their title success was confirmed.
Montpellier finished the season three points clear of PSG in the final standings, which gave the southern club — 14th in Ligue 1 last season — their first major honour since the 1990 French Cup.
“I think it’s deserved,” said Montpellier coach Girard amid scenes of jubilation on the pitch at Auxerre following the final whistle.
“It was a huge fight right until the end. Looking at the number of points, you have to say that the three teams at the top (Montpellier, PSG and Lille) have had extraordinary seasons.”
There was no hint of the drama to come when Auxerre broke the deadlock in the 20th minute at Stade Abbe Deschamps, with Olivier Kapo heading home from a corner.
A defeat was the only means by which Montpellier could have been denied the title but they equalised in the 32nd minute when John Utaka converted a low right-wing cross from Souleymane Camara.
The Auxerre fans’ protest at their relegation — which saw them throw tennis balls and toilet rolls onto the pitch — began at the start of the second period and forced the players to return to the changing rooms.
When play resumed, Montpellier were 19 minutes behind the Lorient-PSG game, and with PSG winning, the leaders were left living on their nerves.
Goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren repelled a powerful drive from Delvin N’Dinga before flares thrown by Auxerre’s fans obliged the players to leave the pitch again and led to a second delay lasting around 20 minutes.
With PSG’s players watching on television from Lorient, riot police began to clear the protesting fans from the stand behind the Montpellier goal and play was able to resume.
There were still 16 minutes to play, but Utaka calmed the visiting fans’ nerves in the 76th minute when he swivelled to slam home his second goal and take the title to Stade de la Mosson for the very first time.
Montpellier’s Olivier Giroud finished as the top scorer in Ligue 1, ending the season level with PSG’s Nene on 21 goals but prevailing by virtue of having scored fewer penalties.
PSG needed to win to stand any chance of winning the title, but they fell behind in the 28th minute at Lorient when Kevin Monnet-Paquet ghosted in behind Zoumana Camara to score with a back-post header.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men equalised in the 61st minute through record signing Javier Pastore and claimed victory through Thiago Motta with 15 minutes left, but although PSG had done their job, it was not enough to deny Montpellier their day in the sun.
“I’m disappointed that we haven’t won the title but the team has done some good work this season, even though we’ve had difficulties in certain matches,” said Ancelotti.
“Montpellier had a great season, as did PSG, and it’s good to be in the Champions League because it’s a strong league.”
Elsewhere, Bordeaux won 3-2 at Saint-Etienne to pip their opponents to fifth place and a berth in the Europa League, with Rennes consigned to sixth despite a 5-0 thrashing of Dijon that sent the promoted side into Ligue 2.
Caen were also relegated after going down 3-1 at Valenciennes.
Eden Hazard bade farewell to outgoing champions Lille by netting a first-half hat-trick in a 4-1 win at home to Nancy in his final game for the club.
Fourth-placed Lyon signed off by losing 4-3 at home to Nice, while Marseille fell 1-0 at Sochaux and finished the season in 10th place.
Lorient ended the season a point above the drop zone, with Ajaccio winning 2-0 at Toulouse to preserve their place in the elite and Brest escaping the drop courtesy of a 1-0 success at ninth-placed Evian.