Brandão rescues point for Saint-Etienne
By A. Scott
Brandão headed home in injury time to earn AS Saint-Etienne a 1-1 draw against his old club Olympique de Marseille at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Sunday evening.
AS Saint-Etienne 1 - 1 Olympique de Marseille
In what was something of a battle of attrition between two sides fighting for Champions League qualification, it looked like Marseille would take all three points thanks to Nicolas Nkoulou's 64th-minute effort. But Brandão's last-gasp counter allowed Les Verts to make it six home games without defeat and the relief among the crowd at Le Chaudron was clear to see.
Christophe Galtier's Saint-Etienne end the weekend still in fourth place and still three points behind LOSC Lille in third, while Marseille hold on to fifth spot after extending their own unbeaten run to four games. But the big winners from the weekend in the race for a place on the podium were undoubtedly Olympique Lyonnais, who lurk just behind OM in sixth.
Marseille coach José Anigo had toyed with the idea of playing a three-man central defence all week and that was eventually how he opted to send his side out, with Souleymane Diawara returning to the line-up. There was also a first OM start for January signing Brice Dja-Djédjé at right-back, while André Ayew started for the first time since early November after making his comeback from injury as a substitute in last week's 3-0 home win against SC Bastia.
Saint-Etienne, who were looking to extend a run of five successive home wins without conceding a goal, were missing the injured François Clerc so Chelsea-bound Kurt Zouma played at right-back. Meanwhile, Brandão was preferred to Mevlut Erding in attack.
It was Zouma who had the game's first chance, and only he will know how he managed to head over from five yards after the visiting defence had failed to clear their lines from a Romain Hamouma free-kick. That set the tone for the evening, with Saint-Etienne playing in direct fashion and looking to get crosses into the box at every opportunity.
However, the only attempt on target that they mustered in the first half came from a Franck Tabanou volley on his weaker right foot that was easily saved by Steve Mandanda. Fabien Lemoine also sliced a shot wide from 30 yards, while OM came closest when André-Pierre Gignac volleyed high over the bar from a Jérémy Morel left-wing cross.
The second-half was just as cagey, with Lemoine again shooting over from long range. But it was Marseille who finally got the breakthrough just after the hour mark. Stéphane Ruffier had kept five consecutive clean sheets at home in Ligue 1, but he was beaten when a Dimitri Payet free-kick from the left was converted by the right foot of Nkoulou at the back post.
It was just a second Ligue 1 goal in 92 appearances for Marseille for the Cameroon defender, and it looked set to be the winner. Saint-Etienne did look livelier once Galtier sent on Yohan Mollo and Benjamin Corgnet in the final quarter of an hour, with the former hitting one just wide from range that came close enough to concern Mandanda.
Gignac, who had scored 11 goals in his previous 11 games in all competitions, then almost increased Marseille's lead when he received a Payet pass and burst into the box through three defenders, only for Ruffier to come off his line and thwart the burly striker.
Instead, it was Saint-Etienne's own burly frontman who had the final word, Brandão rising above Lucas Mendes and Diawara to head home a hopeful long cross from the left by Loïc Perrin. The ball struck the right-hand post and spun into the net off the head of a hapless Mandanda, although the 'keeper was relieved to hold a Mollo shot at the second attempt as Saint-Etienne almost then snatched a dramatic win.