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Paris Saint-Germain 0 Montpellier 0: Pionnier heroics deny wasteful champions

Paris Saint-Germain maintained their 23-point lead at the top of Ligue 1 despite being held to a surprise 0-0 home draw by Montpellier.

A combination of wasteful finishing and inspired goalkeeping from Laurent Pionnier prevented Laurent Blanc’s from taking full advantage of second-placed Monaco being held to a draw by Caen on Friday.

The disappointing draw continues a league blip for the hosts, which began last weekend with their first defeat of the Ligue 1 season – a 2-1 reverse at Lyon.

With one eye firmly on Wednesday night’s Champions League last-16 return leg against Chelsea, Blanc opted not to risk Blaise Matuidi who continues to nurse a slight hamstring strain and he also left several of his other key men, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Luiz, Javier Pastore and Thiago Motta, on the bench.

Angel Di Maria did start, however, having recovered from a thigh strain and was a constant threat before being replaced by Ibrahimovic on the hour-mark.

The men from the capital have now gone 34 home league games unbeaten and remain very much on course to wrap their fourth successive Ligue 1 title up before the end of the month.

Montpellier, meanwhile, came into the game having won their last three on the bounce to climb up to 14th in the table and they defended heroically to maintain their revival under new coach Frederic Hantz.

PSG came absolutely tearing out of the blocks and Edinson Cavani went close to handing his side the lead twice in the opening six minutes.

The Uruguayan’s first effort struck the crossbar and his second drew a superb reflex save from Pionnier, with stand-in skipper Maxwell surging down the left flank to provide the assist on both occasions.

To their credit, Montpellier refused to buckle under the early pressure and during their occasional forays forward, Casimir Ninga and Jerome Roussillon troubled the home defence with their pace down the left.

Blanc’s side continued to look much the more likely, however and Di Maria duly forced Pionnier into action three times with long-range efforts midway through the half.

And the overworked Pionnier was again equal to the Argentinian on 36 minutes, diving bravely at his feet after a swift PSG breakaway had split the visitors’ defence wide open.

On the stroke of half-time, Montpellier enjoyed yet another reprieve as Lucas Moura just failed to slide home Di Maria’s cross-shot at the far post.

PSG seemed to take their foot off the gas at the start to the second half, with some last-ditch defending required to block two goalbound efforts from the lively Ninga.

The hosts’ efforts became increasingly frantic late on, but star man Pionnier had the last say, denying Ibrahimovic one-on-one in stoppage time to preserve a share of the spoils.

Sat 5 Mar, 2016
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