PARIS (AP) — Saint-Etienne overcame a poor pitch to make up ground in the race for a European spot by defeating Nantes 2-0 in the French league on Saturday.
Benjamin Corgnet fired into the bottom corner in the 24th minute and Mevlut Erding converted a penalty in the 83rd. Saint-Etienne provisionally climbed to fourth place with a game in hand while Nantes slipped to sixth.
"The pitch is not good, that's for sure," Saint-Etienne coach Christophe Galtier said. "That's not funny because it's a pitch that generates injuries." Also, Reims thrashed Ajaccio 4-1 to go level on points with Nantes, Sochaux edged Rennes 2-1 to leave the last spot to Ajaccio, and Nice rallied past Evian 3-1 for a third straight win in all competitions. Montpellier extended its winless streak to 11 games in all competitions by drawing 0-0 with Bastia while Toulouse also split the points with Guingamp, in a goalless draw.
On Friday, Valenciennes upset second-place Monaco 2-1. On Sunday, leader Paris Saint-Germain hosts third-place Lille, Bordeaux visits Marseille and Lyon faces Lorient. Saint-Etienne threatened early with tame shots from Erding. The Turkey striker also set up Corgnet, whose first-time effort sailed over the bar in the ninth.
However, Corgnet did not miss in the 24th. Erding slipped the ball to the midfielder, who beat goalkeeper Remy Riou with a low strike from the edge of the box. Nantes could have leveled before halftime despite losing its top striker Filip Djordjevic to an ankle injury in the 35th. Serge Gakpe outmuscled Saint-Etienne defender Jonathan Brison to win a loose ball but sent his half-volley wide.
Venezuela international Fernando Aristeguieta, who replaced Djordjevic, shot straight at goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier from 20 yards in the 45th. Saint-Etienne, which lost 2-1 in extra time to Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 of the League Cup on Wednesday, tired in the second half but Nantes could not create any scoring chances.
Erding added a second goal for the hosts from the penalty spot after Nantes substitute Chaker Alhadhur handled a high ball. Riou prevented Nantes from conceding a third goal by tipping a last-minute effort from Erding over the bar.
In Reims, Gaetan Charbonnier gave the hosts a 2-0 lead with spectacular volleys in the 59th and 62nd before Israeli forward Eliran Atar made it 3-0 from a tight angle in the 73rd. Ajaccio forward Eduardo headed home to pull one back in the 75th but Reims winger Floyd Ayite sealed the win in the 78th.
"We can clearly say tonight that it's all over now," Ajaccio president Alain Orsoni said. "Ajaccio is slowly heading toward the second division. So we are going to prepare for next season by taking into account the obvious reality."
Sochaux coach Herve Renard earned his first league victory since he was appointed on Oct. 7 to replace Eric Hely. Sochaux striker Cedric Bakambu played a one-two with Vincent Nogueira before beating Rennes goalkeeper Benoit Costil for the winner in the 72nd. Bakambu put the hosts ahead with a penalty in the 18th but Rennes winger Romain Alessandrini equalized also from the penalty spot in the 41st.
"Sochaux, with 11 points, is going to keep believing," Renard said. "We are no lunatics who are dreaming. We know very well that securing safety will be very difficult, but at least we're united."