PARIS: Mario Balotelli scored twice to stretch Nice’s advantage at the top of Ligue 1 to four points with with a 2-1 victory over Dijon as title rivals Monaco lost 3-1 to Lyon.
Italy striker Balotelli made his first league start in six weeks after returning from a calf injury and converted a first-half penalty to fire Nice ahead at the Allianz Riviera.
Julio Tavares replied with a spot-kick for Dijon five minutes later, but Balotelli turned home the winner early in the second half to guarantee Nice finish the year in first place.
“The victory wasn’t undeserved but it was a tough one to come away with,” said Nice coach Lucien Favre, whose side visit Bordeaux on Wednesday before heading into the winter break.
“It was important to win. It perhaps lacked style but we gave it our all and got the result. Matches like this are part of the learning experience in order to reach the highest level,” added midfielder Wylan Cyprien.
Balotelli played a full 90 minutes and scored a late consolation in Wednesday’s 3-2 defeat against Bordeaux in the French League Cup, with his return providing a timely boost for Favre’s men.
Nice grabbed the lead on 32 minutes after Alassane Plea was fouled by Yunis Abdelhamid.
Balotelli converted from the spot for his first league goal since October 30, although their advantage was short-lived with Arnaud Souquet harshly penalised for a challenge on Vincent Ruefli in the Nice area.
Cape Verde international Tavares swept home to level, but former Dijon defender Souquet atoned for his foul with a low strike across goal that Balotelli poked in as the flag stayed down despite replays showing him to be in an offside position.
Plea then struck the bar late on as Nice sought to close out the game, while Dijon finished with 10 men as captain Cedric Varrault picked up a second yellow card.
Mendy madness costs Monaco
Monaco lost ground on their Mediterranean neighbours after sliding to defeat at the Stade Louis 2nd.
Rachid Ghezzal struck a sweet 29th-minute opener for Lyon and Monaco’s task grew increasingly challenging following the dismissal of Benjamin Mendy before half-time for cynically kicking out at Corentin Tolisso.
Danijel Subasic saved a second-half penalty from Alexandre Lacazette although Lyon doubled their lead when Mathieu Valbuena volleyed in a cross from Algeria winger Ghezzal.
Tiemoue Bakayoko halved the deficit on 70 minutes but Lacazette extinguished Monaco’s hopes three minutes from time with a well-taken finish for his 12th goal of the season.
Bafetimbi Gomis scored again for Marseille as Rudi Garcia’s side picked up a third victory in succession with a 2-0 win over Lille to climb up to sixth.
Winger Florian Thauvin added a superb solo strike at the Stade Velodrome as Marseille made amends for their shock last-16 cup exit at second-tier Sochaux on penalties earlier in the week.
Caen moved out of the bottom three with a 3-0 home victory over Metz, while Paris Saint-Germain dropped seven points off the pace after the reigning champions slumped to a 2-1 reverse at Guingamp on Saturday.
Yannis Salibur and Nill de Pauw both found the target to give Guingamp a two-goal lead with Edinson Cavani’s 17th league goal unable to prevent the visitors sliding to a fourth loss already this term.