Balotelli strikes as Nice take down Lille
Mario Balotelli scored his 14th Ligue 1 Conforama goal of the season and Wylan Cyprien struck a late winner as OGC Nice defeated LOSC Lille 2-1 on Friday to give their top-five ambitions a boost.
OGC Nice 2-1 LOSC
With an opportunity to up the pressure on Montpellier Hérault SC and FC Nantes ahead of them in the race for fifth place, Nice needed a good start. They got one thanks to their star striker.
Balotelli is best-known for his gifted feet, but his head connected cleanly with Wylan Cyprien's header to send the ball beyond Mike Maignan just five minutes in.
Maignan pushed out an Allan Saint-Maximin shot (15') and was also behind Jean Michaël Seri's low first-time effort from a Saint-Maximin cross (30') as the hosts, who were unbeaten in their last 11 league meetings with Lille, sought to press home their advantage.
Lille, second-from-bottom at kick-off, only threatened once before the break when Lebo Mothiba lashed a fierce shot over the bar after Cyprien had been caught in possession (22'), but Christophe Galtier's men quickly did better after the restart.
Nicolas Pépé had been in form, being involved in four goals in his last five matches, and the former Angers SCO man was at the heart of the move that led to Lille's equaliser, streaking clear, before slamming on the brakes and teeing up Luis Araujo for his third Ligue 1 Conforama strike (51').
Nice, winless in five before the start of the game, responded. Maignan pushed out a point-blank Balotelli header (58') and then saw Thiago Maia clear an Adrien Tameze shot off the line and Seri sky a chance (59') in a frantic 60-second spell that could have seen the hosts regain the initiative.
Saint-Maximin played a ball into the right-hand channel that gave Balotelli a chance, but the former Manchester City and Liverpool forward did not strike his shot cleanly.
The same could not be said of Cyprien, who arrived unmarked at the back post to gloriously volley substitute Arnaud Souquet's cross into the roof of the net (80') for the sweetest of winners. It would only have been a point though had Walter Benitez not brilliantly saved Edgar Ié's header in added time (90+2') as the visitors showed the sort of spirit that will stand them in good stead in their battle against the drop. Now, they just need the results...
THE PLAYER: Wylan Cyprien
The midfielder looks back to his best after recovering from last season's serious knee ligament injury. His second league goal of the campaign was a thing of stylish high quality, just like its scorer.
THE STAT: 3000
Balotelli's goal was Nice's 3000th in Ligue 1 Conforama. They become the seventh club to reach the landmark after Marseille, Saint-Étienne, Bordeaux, Sochaux, Monaco and Lyon.