Ever since he left Elland Road, Max-Alain Gradel has had a tough time of it at Saint-Etienne.
Injuries have taken its toll, but pure and simple he hasn’t been able to win a place in the Sainté first-time.
Last night, the former Leeds United man became a hero for Les Verts. Scoring the second in their 2-1 victory over fierce rivals Lyon, securing only their second derby win in 30 attempts and putting them in hot contention for third place in the league.
The away side took the lead through Turkish striker Mevlut Erding – his third in two games – but they couldn’t hold onto the lead through the first half as Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette notched his 14th of the season, levelling the scores just before the break.
It was a fantastic striker from Lacazette, and a goal that will only increase the amount of stories linking him with a move away from Lyon. Jean Michel Aulas may call him “untransferrable” but it didn’t stop Napoli becoming the latest team to show an interest this week.
It looked like Saint-Etienne would once again fail to overcome their bitter rivals, but Gradel was on hand to save the day. Anthony Lopes couldn’t hold Renaud Cohade’s cross and it feel straight into the path of the former Leeds man. The forward wasn’t going to miss from eight yards.
The win leaves Saint-Etienne only three points from Lille in third. The lead could have been even shorter had the northern club not snatched a late minute winner at home to Guingamp.
In what was a terribly poor game the 2011 Ligue 1 champions had to wait until injury time before substitute Salomon Kalou turned in the only goal of the game after Marko Basa’s knockdown. It was Lille’s 19th clean sheet of the season and keeps them with the slim advantage as they hold onto the last Champions League place.
The day started with Rennes continuing their good week in front of goal. After beating Lille in the Coupe de France on Thursday they continued to impress and saw off Bastia with a comfortable 3-0 victory.
It is their second on the bounce and moves them away from the relegation zone. Goals from Ola Toivonen, Romain Alessandrini and Jean Makoun sealed the 3-0 win and move Philippe Montanier’s side up to 12th in the table.
With their league place all but secured, Rennes can now concentrate on the Coupe de France semi-final against Angers. It would be a huge boost to Montanier’s season if he could get his club to a cup final in his first season. It could even mean European football next season.
Ask Lille, Saint-Etienne and Lyon, that’s all anyone is fighting for at the moment.