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Auxerre close on French pace-setters

Auxerre boosted their bid for European football next season by beating relegation-threatened Saint-Etienne 1-0 at the Stade Abbe Deschamps on Sunday.

Centre-back Jean Pascal Mignot scored the decisive goal 12 minutes from time when he dispatched Valter Birsa’s right-wing corner at the near post.

Saint-Etienne, 10-time French champions, almost took the lead in the third minute when Dimitri Payet thumped a shot against the post, while Auxerre saw substitute Dennis Oliech graze an upright in the second half.

The visitors appeared to have brought themselves level when Gonzalo Bergessio netted four minutes from the end but his strike was controversially ruled out for offside.

“I said to myself that we were heading for a draw and then Birsa placed a good corner onto Mignot’s head for a great goal,” said Auxerre coach Jean Fernandez.

“I feel for Saint-Etienne as well, because they scored a valid goal that was not given by the referee. Saint-Etienne didn’t deserve to lose, but that’s football.”

Auxerre move up to fifth, level on points with fourth-placed Monaco – who are a place below the Champions League qualification berths – while Saint-Etienne remain fourth from bottom, four points clear of the drop zone.

Valenciennes drew 1-1 at home to Sochaux, with Johan Audel’s 21st-minute opener for the hosts cancelled out by Damien Perquis’s equaliser nine minutes into the second period.

Lyon, sixth, host Paris Saint-Germain in Sunday’s late game, where they will hope to bounce back from the disappointment of exiting both domestic cup competitions in the space of three days earlier in the week.

In Saturday’s matches, leaders Bordeaux were held to a surprise 0-0 draw at home to second-bottom Boulogne, enabling Montpellier to move to within six points of the champions by beating Marseille 2-0.

Lille remain third, two points behind Montpellier, after beating Lens 1-0, while Monaco won 3-2 against struggling Nice for their first win in the Riviera derby for 14 years.

Sun 31 January, 2010
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