Montpellier to test Rennes resolve
By I. Holyman
Stade Rennais FC face a stiff examination of their credibility as challengers for a place in the top four with ambitious Montpellier Hérault SC Sunday's visitors to Brittany.
Stade Rennais FC - Montpellier Hérault SC
Things had been going so well for Julien Stéphan. Rennes' new boss could do no wrong as he became the first coach in the club's history to win his first four matches in charge to lift the Rouge-et-Noir (Red-and-Black) to within sight of the European qualifying places.
The short trip to Breton neighbours En Avant Guingamp for Wednesday's rescheduled Week 18 fixture should — on paper at least — have been another triumph with the hosts bottom of the table.
Instead, Stéphan was left nursing a maiden defeat of his senior coaching career as Guingamp came out on top 2-1 with Mbaye Niang's stunning consolation strike four minutes from time a reminder of what might have been.
WATCH: What happened when the pair met earlier this season
"We got going too late; we had several chances in the final 20 minutes and I think we would have deserved a leveller as, although we conceded two goals, we hadn't conceded all that many chances," admitted Stéphan, who is the son of France's FIFA World Cup-winning assistant coach Guy.
"It's frustrating for us, and it's disappointing, but we have to move on as we have an important match at home to Montpellier on Sunday."
Dip in form
Rennes have won their last two matches at Roazhon Park and are unbeaten in five against Montpellier, but the visitors come into Week 21 two points and three places better off than their hosts in fifth place.
Michel Der Zakarian's side would have travelled north with more optimism had the game been held well before Christmas, but the 2011/12 Ligue 1 Conforama champions have suffered a dip in form that has reduced their momentum.
Just one win has come from their last seven league games, allowing teams like LOSC Lille and AS Saint-Etienne to pull away in front of them and give sides like Rennes, OGC Nice and RC Strasbourg Alsace a chance to bridge the gap and force themselves into the reckoning for a top-four finish, the only places that will guarantee European football next season.
WATCH: Guingamp inflict a first loss on Julien Stéphan
Montpellier stumbled in the pursuit of that goal with last weekend's 1-1 draw at Dijon FCO, though without Damien Le Tallec's second-half equaliser, it could have been worse for the visitors.
"We had a lot of chances in the first half, but we failed to take them and hit the woodwork twice. It's a shame we couldn't convert those chances," said Der Zakarian, who will have Gaëtan Laborde back from a one-game ban but is without first-choice goalkeeper Benjamin Lecomte.
"Dijon had chances too, but we could have won it late on. We need to develop a taste for winning."
Rennes: to follow
Montpellier: to follow