Mario Balotelli's early brace set OGC Nice up for a comfortable 4-1 win over SM Caen that boosts their European hopes and leaves the Normandy side still at risk of relegation with a game to go.
OGC Nice 4 - 1 SM Caen
If this was to be Balotelli's final game in a Nice shirt at the Allianz Riviera, then it could not have gone better for the Italian. He opened the scoring inside two minutes, collecting Damien Da Silva's weak headed clearance and lashing a low shot into the bottom-left corner of the net from 30 yards (2').
Lucien Favre's side doubled their lead soon after, winning a penalty after Jean Michaël Seri was fouled in the area by his fellow Ivorian Ismaël Diomande. There was not much doubt about the award, and Balotelli stepped up to take the spot-kick. He converted, but was forced to retake for feinting at the end of his run-up. No trouble, he scored again, into the same bottom-left corner (10').
It was game over before half-time, with Allan Saint-Maximin thumping in the third goal after being played in by a Balotelli pass with the outside of his right boot, which took a helpful deflection off Damien Da Silva on its way (37').
Caen's evening went from bad to worse when Diomandé was sent off early in the second half. He pulled back Balotelli as the Italian threatened to run clear on goal. Initially shown a yellow card by referee Frank Schneider, that became red as he voiced his frustration to the official (54').
Nice added a fourth goal when Alassane Pléa slipped in Seri and he beat Brice Samba - replacing the injured Rémy Vercoutre in the away goal - with a delightful chipped finish for his first Ligue 1 Conforama goal since October (72'). However, Caen did reduce the arrears when a slack Arnaud Souquet pass allowed Jessy Deminguet to tee up fellow substitute Christian Kouakou to make it 4-1 (76').
A welcome return to winning ways for Nice combined with AS Saint-Etienne losing in Monaco allowed Favre's men to climb into the top six - enough for a Europa League berth - with a game to go. Caen, meanwhile, could still go down.
THE PLAYER: Mario Balotelli
This may have been Balotelli's farewell appearance at the Allianz Riviera and he marked it with two goals and an assist. It was also his 50th league game as a Nice player. He has scored 18 Ligue 1 Conforama goals this season, and 26 in all competitions. How they will miss him.
THE STAT: 9
Caen are now nine Ligue 1 Conforama games without a win after this defeat, taking just two points from the last 27 available. If they lose at home to Paris Saint-Germain on the final day of the season, and Toulouse FC win at home to EA Guingamp, Patrice Garande's side will face a relegation play-off.