Gradel sinks Nice to give Toulouse boost
Max-Alain Gradel scored the only goal of the game as Toulouse FC gave their survival hopes a major shot in the arm with a 1-0 win at OGC Nice on Saturday.
OGC Nice 0-1 Toulouse FC
Toulouse had lost their last three trips to Nice, and were without a number of key players such as Christopher Jullien and Andy Delort. The omens were not good, but after winning against Troyes last time out, Ligue 1 Conforama's 19th-placed team at kick-off had travelled with some semblance of form.
They could also look at their hosts, who were in relegation trouble themselves until a stunning run of form before Christmas propelled them up the table. Toulouse were also helped by Nice's continuing difficulties in defence, which almost brought the visitors an early opening goal.
A long ball forward provoked confusion between Dante and Malang Sarr, and with neither dealing with it, Gradel stole in, shooting narrowly over the bar when he should have at least tested Walter Benitez (2').
Bassem Srarfi had found the net when Nice won 2-1 earlier in the season in the south west, and the young Tunisian was at the heart of the hosts' first foray forward.
He drove forward before finding Patrick Burner - the young full-back's cross was met by Jean-Victor Makengo, but Alban Lafont in the Toulouse goal was equal to his header (6').
Nice required Srarfi and Alassane Pléa to be in lively mood with top scorer Mario Balotelli suspended, and the pair very nearly conjured an opening goal.
Pléa provided the opportunity for Srarfi to play a smart one-two, but with only Lafont to beat when he seized onto the return ball, the attacking midfielder smashed his effort off the far post (23').
Toulouse made Nice pay for their inability to take their chances and turn their overwhelming possession into goals when Gradel struck on 67 minutes. After a classic counter-attack, the Ivory Coast international had time inside the Nice box to bend a fine shot into the far corner.
For the former AS Saint-Etienne man, who is on loan from English Premier League side Bournemouth, it was the sixth and probably most crucial goal of the league campaign.
Nice might have snatched a draw late on when Yago failed to clear inside his own box and presented Ganago with a chance, but the young striker fired wide as Lucien Favre's men were beaten for the second successive league game.
THE PLAYER: Max-Alain Gradel
A quality finish from a top-quality player made all the difference in the game, and could make all the difference to Toulouse maintaining their top-flight status come the end of the season.
THE STAT: 3
This was only Toulouse's third away win in 28 Ligue 1 Conforama trips; it was their first since beating Angers in October.