Montpellier earn morale-boosting win
By A. Scott
Second-half strikes from Younès Belhanda and Souleymane Camara gave Montpellier Hérault SC a much-needed 2-0 win at AS Nancy Lorraine on Saturday night.
AS Nancy Lorraine 0-2 Montpellier Hérault SC
It was not classic stuff by any means by the reigning Ligue 1 champions, but Belhanda (67') and Camara (90') produced two moments of magic to hand René Girard's men just their second win of the campaign, and their first clean sheet. However, Nancy's troubles continue, with this their fifth consecutive league defeat and their sixth in a row in all competitions. It is also now eight and a half hours since they scored a Ligue 1 goal, and their superb second half to last season is but a distant memory with a long winter looming for Jean Fernandez and his side.
Fernandez is unlikely to panic given his vast experience of coaching at the highest level, though, especially as there were plenty of indications here that his team are on the right track. They were the better side in the first period, with the movement of their attacking players unsettling Montpellier and their pressing stopping the visitors from getting into any real rhythm. Clear-cut chances were few and far between, however, after Djamel Bakar's first-time effort was saved by Geoffrey Jourdren following fine play from Lossemy Karaboué early on.
Nancy in charge
A Karaboué cross-cum-shot across goal passed just beyond the reach of Benjamin Moukandjo before Bakar came close to connecting with Yohan Mollo's cross from the right as Nancy bossed the first quarter of the encounter. In contrast, it took Montpellier almost half an hour to produce a chance of note, although it was a golden one. Rémy Cabella sidestepped Sébastien Puygrenier before slipping on the artificial surface as he got his shot away, but the ball fell kindly for Belhanda, who somehow contrived to blaze over when unmarked ten yards from goal.
Camara then fired wide following a Garry Bocaly cut-back, and at half time the few Montpellier fans who made the trip north may have been reminiscing about last season's top scorer Olivier Giroud, who would have jumped at such a chance. Camara could have done little more on the hour, however, when he was denied from point-blank range by Guy Roland Ndy Assembe after connecting with a low Cabella cross.
No doubt aware that his side had not done enough going forward, Girard cut an agitated figure on the touchline, but his anxiety was eased when Montpellier took the lead midway through the second half. It was a goal of genuine quality, with Belhanda finding Karim Aït-Fana, who cut in from the left and returned the ball to the reigning Ligue 1 young player of the year. The Moroccan took one touch to control, another to get the ball out from under his body, and then fired a low strike right into Ndy Assembe's right-hand corner, just beyond the 'keeper's fingertips.
Out of luck
Given their struggles in front of goal, it was always going to be a big ask for Nancy to get back into the game, but they came desperately close when an André Luiz header following a corner was blocked on the line by Marco Estrada. The ball rolled into the grateful arms of Jourdren with some home fans thinking it had crossed the line.
When your luck is out, your luck is out, and Nancy were finally killed off by Camara's cracking strike in the final minute. After latching on to a cross-field ball from Cabella, Camara gave Ndy Assembe no chance with a strike of great power and accuracy from 25 yards, and Montpellier can go into Wednesday's Champions League clash with Schalke 04 in Germany with belief restored.