LOSC had to dig deep against a dogged AS Saint-Etienne, but Ligue 1 Conforama's second-place club found the winner five minutes from time through Nicolas Pépé.
AS Saint-Etienne 1-0 LOSC
LOSC have been the best of the rest behind Paris Saint-Germain this season, bit with Sainté harbouring European ambitions of their own, the match got off at a breakneck speed at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. Wahbi Khazri curled a free-kick just over the home goal (9') before Pépé sped past Neven Subotic and forced a save from Stéphane Ruffier (11') as both sides came out with attacking intent. Pépé and Stéphane Ruffier, talismans for their respective teams, continued their personal duel just inside the half hour when Pépé drilled in a low shot, but the ASSE hot-stopper proved equal to it (29'). Robert Beric then tried his luck at the other end, but Ruffier's opposite number Mike Maignan saved with his feet (35'). Saint-Etienne coach Jean-Louis Gasset was sent to the stands after protesting a foul on Youssef Aït Bennasser (40') and his exasperation nearly turned to desperation on the stoke of half-time when Thiago Mendes found Jonathan Ikoné free in the box, but the Paris Saint-Germain academy graduate blazed over the bar from close range (45+1').
Pépé finds a way through
The teams came out unchanged for the second half but there was no sign of any tired legs. Pépé volleyed Rafael Leao's knock-down towards the home goal with the first attack after the restart but Ruffier kept it out (47'). The biggest problem with ASSE's attacking ambition was Pépé's pace on the counter. The winger covered more than 60 yards to set up his next chance, getting one-on-one with Ruffier, but his finish didn't do the run that had preceded it justice (55'). Ikoné nearly capitalised on a rare Ruffier mistake soon after, but after stealing in the 'keeper recovered (57'). LOSC kept piling on the pressure but the game looked certain to be heading for a goalless draw until Pépé found the answer five minutes from time. The Côte d'Ivoire attacker latched onto a hopeful long ball forward following Wahbi Khazri's failed pass into the Lille box, before cutting inside and findsing the corner of Ruffier's goal for his 17th goal of the season (85'). Mathieu Debuchy (90') and Khazri (90+4') were sent off towards the end as home tempers frayed, and it ended 1-0.
THE PLAYER: Nicolas Pépé
Whilst LOSC have been impressive collectively this season, if they are to return to the UEFA Champions League group stages for the first time since the 2012/13 campaign, no player will deserve greater thanks than Pépé. The 23-year-old boasts a rare combination of skill, pace and determination, with his winning goal just reward after a game-high six attempts. Born in France to parents of Ivorian descent, Pépé was first capped in 2016 when still owned by Angers SCO. Had he waited, he wouldn't have looked out of place playing for the world champions instead.
THE STAT: 9
Lille are now undefeated in each of their last nine games in Ligue 1 Conforama. Christophe Galtier's side haven't been beaten since December, when Toulouse FC came away from the Stade Pierre-Mauroy with a 2-1 win. Seven points clear in second with ten games left, the northerners can dare to dream.