PARIS: Nice may have been without Mario Balotelli but they ground out a 1-0 win at Nancy on Sunday (Monday in Manila) to go back to the top of the Ligue 1 table.
With Balotelli, scorer of four goals in his first two appearances in French football, left behind on the Cote d’Azur due to an adductor problem, his fellow striker Alassane Plea scored the only goal of the game at the Stade Marcel-Picot.
The result maintained Nice’s unbeaten start to the French season under new coach Lucien Favre and allowed them to end the weekend at the summit after Monaco briefly usurped them on Saturday evening.
Monaco had been taken apart in a 4-0 derby defeat in Nice in midweek but bounced back to beat Angers 2-1 in the absence of Radamel Falcao, who was recovering from concussion.
Nice’s victory means they are a point clear of Monaco and three points clear of Toulouse, who stunned stumbling Paris Saint-Germain 2-0 on Friday to leave the champions in fourth spot.
“We played well in the second half, much better than in the first half when we were squeezed like lemons,” said Favre.
“To have 17 points after seven matches is magnificent. We are all happy.”
In a far from memorable contest, a weakened Nice were lucky not to be behind with Nancy having the best chances before the visitors went in front just after the hour mark.
Valentin Eysseric’s delightful ball into the box found Plea and he produced a first-time finish for his third goal of the campaign.
The win came on the day former Nice captain and coach Rene Marsiglia, who was in charge of the side in the 2011/12 season, died after a long battle with cancer at the age of 57.
Earlier on Sunday, Saint-Etienne came good in the second half to beat Lille 3-1 and leave their opponents rooted to the foot of the table.
Slovenian international Robert Beric put Les Verts in front after the hour mark before teenage debutant Arnaud Nordin increased the home side’s advantage.
Renato Civelli pulled one back but Nolan Roux secured the points in stoppage time and Lille are a point adrift of Nancy at the bottom.
This was their fourth straight defeat and it is the first time they have propped up the table since the 1995/96 season.
In the late game, Marseille came from behind to beat Nantes 2-1 at the Velodrome with Clinton Njie cancelling out Emiliano Sala’s opener before Bafetimbi Gomis grabbed the winner from the penalty spot.
It was a fifth goal of the season for Gomis since his return to French football on loan from English Premier League side Swansea City and it gave Marseille just their second win of the campaign.