Nicolas Pallois was the unlikely matchwinner as Rennes lost ground in the race for a top-three finish with recent Coupe de France winners Nantes running out 2-1 victors in Wednesday's rescheduled Breton derby.
Rennes had seen Nice move above them with a 4-2 win over Saint-Etienne earlier in the evening, and required one point to reclaim that position and three to return level with third-placed Monaco. But Nantes — Coupe de France victors on Saturday — were always likely to make life difficult for their Breton rivals.
Osman Bukari's run down the right — that took him past Adrien Truffert — and dangerous cross set the tone (14') for the hosts; the excellent Benjamin Bourigeaud teed up Martin Terrier for the visitors' first effort at goal (19') by means of a riposte.
Terrier then fired wide of the target (27') as the 21-goal striker struggled to find his range. The former Lyon, Lille and Strasbourg man has the ability to make as well as take goals, however, and he found Bourigeaud who sent over the low cross from which Flavien Tait opened the scoring (32').
It was the 27th time in 36 matches Rennes had opened the scoring — a division-high tally — and they would have given themselves room to manoeuvre had Bourigeaud found the net and not the woodwork with a free-kick (39').
Alban Lafont then produced a good save to deny Terrier (43') before Nantes, who had won just two of their previous 22 league meetings with Rennes, pulled level against the run of play: Bukari nipped ahead of Truffert and Baptiste Santamaria, and his well-struck cross flew high into the net off the knee of Kalifa Coulibaly (45').
The towering forward saw Alfred Gomis parry his shot early in the second half (46') before Rennes re-established their grip on the game if not the scoreboard: Tait brought a save from Lafont (47') and so did Bourigeaud (53') before Tait then flashed an effort just wide (56') as Bruno Genesio's men made a bright opening to the second half.
Gaëtan Laborde's only league goal in his last eight appearances had come against Breton opposition — the 5-0 defeat of Lorient in Round 34 — and he should have added another just after the hour mark, but appeared surprised when Bourigeaud's corner fell to him at the back post, and he could only push the ball wide from point-blank range (63').
Fabio was well-placed to charge down a Bourigeaud shot (65') before Nantes once again struck against the run of play. Antoine Kombouaré's men are nothing if not resilient, and having seen off the best Rennes could throw at them, Pallois opened his account for the season — the centre-back, who has been inspirational this term, volleying past Gomis from Ludovic Blas' deep cross (71').
Genesio responded by throwing on Jeremy Doku and Serhou Guirassy, but the fresh-legged firepower was unable to make an impact as Rennes ended the night in fifth place, which would qualify for next season's UEFA Europa Conference League, with Strasbourg lurking just two points behind with just two matches left.
THE PLAYER: Flavien Tait
The former Angers midfielder continued his excellent goalscoring form with a third strike in five league appearances. On another night, he might have had more than one goal, something Rennes could have done with.
THE STAT: 78
Rennes have now scored 78 league goals this season, and are just two shy of their club record of 80 set in 1965/66.