Pléa does trick to keep Nice clear
Alassane Pléa scored a hat-trick as leaders OGC Nice triumphed 4-2 at FC Metz on Sunday to maintain their advantage at the top of the table at four points.
FC Metz 2-4 OGC Nice
Monaco's win on Friday had seen the principality club ease up just behind their Côte d'Azur neighbours, but Lucien Favre's men quickly showed their determination to keep their south-coast rivals at arm's length.
There was no Mario Balotelli in the league leader's line-up, but Pléa is a more than adequate replacement for the Italian megastar, and when he seized onto Jean Michaël Seri's exquisite through ball, he confidently gave the visitors an early lead (12').
Confidence breeds confidence, and with Nice top of the league and ahead in the game, self-belief was not in short supply - that was clear when Wylan Cyprien looked up and fired a half-volley goalwards from 30 metres that smashed off the bar.
Having lost their last two league games, including a 7-0 trouncing by AS Monaco in their last home outing, Metz could have been forgiven for crumbling, but they showed character in equalising - Georges Mandjeck's powerful run allowed Mevlut Erding to shoot, and though Yoan Cardinale pushed out the effort, Mandjeck was on hand to fire in the rebound (25').
Nice were soon back in front, however. Younes Belhanda darted into the box from the left and was tripped by Jonathan Rivierez - Pléa's spot-kick struck the legs of the diving Thomas Didillon, but spun over the line to give the striker a fifth league goal in ten outings this term (38').
When Mandjeck fell awkwardly and painfully to the turf (68'), Metz's ambitions appeared to have taken a blow, but it proved a blessing in disguise as his replacement, Habib Diallo, latched onto an Erding flick just 23 seconds after coming off the bench to shoot crisply beyond Cardinale (69').
Didillon pushed out a swerving Cyprien free-kick (77') and then instinctively stuck out a leg to win his face-to-face duel with Pléa in the closing stages (82') as it looked like he would earn Philippe Hinschberger's men a thoroughly deserved point.
Nice continued to plough forward though, and when Pléa was played through a second time shortly afterwards, the pacy forward's finish was too good for Didillon (84') before Cyprien capped a fine individual display with a low drive into the bottom corner to keep his team flying high (90+2').
THE PLAYER: Alassane Pléa
Nice can be thankful they have a more than capable back-up to Balotelli, even if he might have completed a hat-trick that would have given his team victory.
THE STAT: 10
Nice are the only Ligue 1 team to have scored in every top-flight match to date.