Lille shows flair and resilience to win 3-2 at Nimes
PARIS (AP) — Lille showed the attacking flair and resilient qualities befitting a side challenging for second place, winning 3-2 at Nimes on Sunday despite playing most of the match with 10 men following an early sending off.
It has been some turnaround for Lille, which is second nearing the halfway point having narrowly avoided relegation last season. The fact it did so was largely down to a career-high 13 league goals from striker Nicolas Pepe.
But the 23-year-old is well set to smash his own record, and took his tally to 12 so far this term with a fine goal for 3-1 midway through the second half. It moves Pepe level with Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe and Nantes striker Emiliano Sala at the top of the French league scoring charts.
Nimes pulled a goal back two minutes into injury time through Clement Depres’ header and then hit the crossbar in the fifth minute of added-on time. But Lille held firm and its bench celebrated gleefully at the final whistle.
Lille was leading 1-0 thanks to forward Rafael Leao’s fourth-minute header when center half and captain Jose Fonte was shown a red card in the 16th for remonstrating angrily with a fourth official after a throw-in was awarded to Nimes. Lille Coach Christophe Galtier was also irate and sent to the stands for the rest of the game.
Despite the setback, Lille went 2-0 ahead close to halftime through Jonathan Bamba’s deflected strike, with Pepe involved in the move.
Then Pepe scored the goal of the game, running from deep and accelerating away before finishing with a powerful strike past goalkeeper Paul Bernardoni.
Striker Rachid Alioui pulled one back for 10th-place Nimes. Lille is 10 points behind runaway leader Paris Saint-Germain, which has played two fewer matches.
Later Sunday, Nice was looking for a seventh straight league game without conceding a goal when it hosted Saint-Etienne and fourth-place Lyon faced struggling Monaco.
Only four matches went ahead this weekend, with one moved to Tuesday and five postponed at the request of authorities.
PSG’s match at Dijon on Saturday was initially on before also being called off because police forces across the country are stretched amid anti-government protests and in the wake of a deadly Christmas market attack this week in Strasbourg.
A minute’s silence was being held at all soccer stadiums in the first and second divisions this weekend in memory of the Strasbourg victims and their families.