PARIS (AFP) - Marseille overcame a resolute Nice on Saturday to claim a precious 2-1 league win, three days ahead of a potentially volatile clash with Champions League opponents Atletico Madrid.
"We deserved the win," said Marseille coach Eric Gerets whose side are now just three points behind champions Lyon who slumped to a shock 2-1 defeat at Nantes courtesy of a controversial late penalty.
"Apart from the first few minutes we dominated the first half. In the second, after (Mahamadou) Niang went off and some players tired it was a bit more difficult."
Days after one of the club's 'ultra' fans was handed a lengthy jail term for assaulting a Spanish policeman at their previous Champions League fixture in Spain, Marseille were on a mission.
Nice were unbeaten in their past eight matches, but Marseille were determined to secure the result that would appease everyone close to the club stunned by the three and a half year jail sentence handed to Santos Mirasierra.
Winless in their past four matches, Marseille began at an impressive pace and their fluid midfield had Nice chasing shadows for much of the first half.
If they play with as much passion in midweek, Marseille may get the win against Atletico that would secure them a future in this season's UEFA Cup.
It took a deflection from a Marseille free-kick in the 14th minute for the hosts to claim the opener, Olivier Echouafni turning the ball into his own net.
After dominating the first half the hosts claimed a second goal from the penalty spot.
Nice midfielder Cyril Rool was spotted pulling the shirt of Mathieu Valbuena, and after the referee pointed to the spot Mahamadou Niang stepped up to convert.
Nice emerged from the break fired up and took just three minutes to reduce the arrears, Habib Bamogo slipping past the Marseille defence to fire the ball past Steve Mandanda into the roof of the Marseille net.
The visitors were given reason for hope when Niang left the field injured just after the hour mark. Afterwards Marseille doctors said he could be out for up to six weeks with a foot fracture.
Lyon spurned a chance to further increase their lead at the top after a dramatic 2-1 defeat at Nantes.
Frederic Piquionne fired home for the seven-time champions from a close range rebound after Jerome Alonzo had spilled a Kim Kallstrom free-kick in the 43rd minute.
The Canaries levelled in the 59th minute after Ivan Klasnic slipped the ball into an empty net after Hugo Lloris pushed the ball into his path following a duel with midfielder Aurelien Capoue.
Klasnic then stepped up to score an 89th minute winner from the penalty spot after a debatable penalty decision following a duel between Nantes' Mamadou Bagayoko and Marseille's Lamine Gassanah.
Rennes are third in the table after a 1-1 draw at Caen which puts them a point beind Marseille.
Struggling Saint Etienne claimed a precious 2-0 win over Le Havre to move further away from the relegation zone.
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