Mbaye Niang set Stade Rennais FC on their way as they warmed up for the UEFA Europa League knockout stage with a handsome 3-0 win over 10-man AS Saint-Etienne on Sunday.
Stade Rennais FC 3 - 0 AS Saint-Etienne
Rennes were looking for a third home in just over a week and they had lost just one of their previous 12 home meetings with Les Verts in the top flight. Jordan Siebatcheu was rewarded with a start after coming off the bench to score twice in the midweek Coupe de France win over LOSC, and he came close to giving the hosts the lead here - Hatem Ben Arfa played the striker in for a shot that was saved by Stéphane Ruffier (20').
However, Rennes went ahead from a corner moments later as Benjamin Bourigeaud's delivery from the left was headed home in thumping fashion by Niang for his fourth Ligue 1 Conforama goal of the season (21').
Siebatcheu then hobbled off soon after, but the chances continued to come at both ends in the first half - Niang could have made it 2-0 but saw his shot hit the top of the bar on its way over after a free-kick fell to his feet in the box. Meanwhile, at the other end, Tomáš Koubek tipped a Loïs Diony shot onto the post (28'), and Neven Subotic was guilty of a shocking miss just before the interval, turning the ball over the bar from a yard out after Koubek had saved a Timothée Kolodziejczak header (44').
Saint-Etienne would live to regret that miss as they crumbled late on at Roazhon Park. Jean-Louis Gasset's side were still in the game as Ben Arfa struck the post from range in the 74th minute, but the visiting coach had been sent to the stand for protesting to the officials before the hosts won a penalty four minutes from the end for a Loïc Perrin handball that was seen by the referee following a VAR review.
Ben Arfa duly dispatched the penalty (87'), and Rennes then got a third goal in stoppage time when Ismaïla Sarr squared for Adrien Hunou to finish. Saint-Etienne's misery was compounded as Romain Hamouma was sent off right at the end for a second yellow card.
It is onwards and upwards now for the Bretons, who are now just a point behind Saint-Etienne. However, coach Julien Stéphan's day was slightly overshadowed by the injury to Siebatcheu and the sight of Bourigeaud being stretchered off in the second half, with the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie against Real Betis to come on Thursday.
THE PLAYER: Mbaye Niang
Stéphan seems to be getting the best out of Niang, who started wide on the left in the home side's 4-2-3-1 formation and set Rennes on their way to victory with the opening goal. The Senegal international will have a crucial role to play in the two legs against Betis.
THE STAT: 9
Rennes are now unbeaten in nine home games in all competitions since Stéphan's appointment, winning eight (including a penalty shoot-out) and drawing one.