Vincent Pajot’s spectacular first-half strike was not enough for AS Saint-Etienne as they had to settle for a point with a 1-1 draw at home to FC Nantes on Sunday.
AS Saint-Etienne 1-1 FC Nantes
With part of their stadium closed following the incidents that marred their derby defeat to Olympique Lyonnais, Saint-Etienne could have hoped for a better atmosphere in which to try and revive their fortunes.
They would certainly have asked for an easier opponent than a Nantes side that had beaten champions AS Monaco in midweek and were looking to press their claims for a podium place.
But the hosts had had 24 hours more recovery than their guests following their midweek defeat to Bordeaux, and with Nantes struggling on their travels – Claudio Ranieri’s side had lost their last three league trips – Les Verts took advantage.
Kevin Monnet-Paquet saw a shot ricochet off Chidozie Awaziem (10′) before Bryan Dabo smashed a half-volley off the bar (11′) having been afforded space by Valentin Rongier’s untimely slip.
Nantes’ top scorer brought a save from Stéphane Ruffier with a volley (25′), but the hosts were the more threatening, and after Cheikh Mbengue had stretched Ciprian Tatarusanu (31′), the Romania international was beaten.
And how, by Pajot, whose magnificent drive from 30 metres flashed into the top corner with the Nantes goalkeeper, all 1.96m of him, watching it helplessly en route (38′).
With shooting season declared open, Saidy Janko also tried his luck from distance before the break only for the former Manchester United FC and Celtic FC full-back to find Tatarusanu firmly behind his drive (42′).
Nantes regrouped at the break, and quickly sought to get themselves back on level terms. Yassine El Ghanassy almost caught out Ruffier at the near post (52′) before Emiliano Sala equalised with the more fortunate of the five league goals he has this season (61′).
Bulldozing towards goal after Santy Ngom’s knockdown, the Argentine striker was struck in the face by Léo Lacroix’s attempted clearance, sending the ball spinning into the bottom corner.
Sala then tested Ruffier after being played in (65′) before Monnet-Paquet stretched to force a save from Tatarusanu at the opposite end (66′).
Ngom, making only his second professional appearance at the age of 24 after coming off the bench at half-time for the injured Valentin Rongier, again called Ruffier into action (75′), as did another sub, Lucas Lima with a free-kick, in added time (90+1′).
The Brazilian full-back had claimed the late goal that had sunk Monaco on Wednesday; Ngom should have made it two dramatic late wins for Les Canaris, but his close-range diving header flew over the bar in the very last move of the match (90+4′).
THE PLAYER: Emiliano Sala
His goal was not pretty, but the former Girondins de Bordeaux and SM Caen striker again showed his worth in a battling, lead-from-the-front display. His never-say-die attitude gives Nantes a chance in every game.
THE STAT: 17
Nantes have failed to win in Saint-Etienne since November 2000, a run stretching back more than 17 years.