Late Hazard strike sends Lille clear
By S. Willis
Lille regained outright top spot on the table when Belgian prodigy Eden Hazard struck in the dying seconds of injury time to clinch a dramatic 2-1 win over a tenacious Valenciennes side at the Stade Lille Métropole on Sunday night.
After spending the last two weeks locked on points with Rennes, Lille made the most of the Breton side’s loss against Marseille on Friday to regain a three-point advantage atop the standings.
After scoring a superb goal from range in last weekend’s win over Marseille, in-demand midfielder Eden Hazard raised his stocks even further as he capped off an excellent performance by notching the winner with a powerful angled shot with literally seconds left to play.
VA, unbeaten in the league in two months, proved no easybeats on the newly relaid surface at the Stade Lille Métropole, but Lille showed that they have the steel of a side who can take out the Ligue 1 crown as they fought until the bitter end to get the crucial result.
Sow makes amends
Although VA managed early on to stifle a Lille side clearly missing the midfield dynamism of the suspended Florent Balmont, it was the hosts who opened the scoring when Ligue 1 top scorer Moussa Sow, minutes after firing Hazard’s crafty cut-back well over, struck his 18th of the season.
Hazard was again the one to feed the Senegalese marksman, his first-time lay-off setting Sow free to race across the edge of the area and to strike a powerful shot that, after taking a deflection from the outstretched foot of Milan Bisevac, curled into the top left corner and past a helpless Nicolas Penneteau (39’).
Pujol does his thing
The goal put Lille back in the driver’s seat and the league leaders looked to be regaining control of the match until Renaud Cohade bought a precious yard of space with a deft feint before slotting the ball between the Lille defenders for club top scorer 11-goal Grégory Pujol, who made no mistake with a powerful angled shot from the edge of the area (59’).
Back on level terms, Lille had it all to do again. But this time the confidence was with the visitors, and it took the next half hour of play for Lille to gradually press VA back until they were camped on the edge of their area, defending desperately against the incessant waves of Lille attacks.
With mere seconds remaining in injury time, it seemed VA had held out for a well-earned draw when Lille captain Rio Mavuba found Hazard unmarked in the penalty area. The fleet-footed Belgian international produced a top-class finish under pressure, firing an angled shot across Penneteau and just inside the far post for a dramatic late win.
The side to beat
If Lille can continue to win tough matches such as this one and last week’s last-gasp win over Marseille, and if Hazard can continue to confirm his enormous talent with more goals, Rudi Garcia’s men will definitely be the side to beat in this season’s title race. Valenciennes’ prospects, on the other hand, are decidedly more grim, the loss seeing them slip a place to 14th, just three points clear of 18th-placed Auxerre and the drop zone.