In-form striker Nicolas Pepe scored what proved to be the winner as 10-man Lille claimed a 3-2 win at Nimes on Sunday to consolidate second place in Ligue 1.
The French title race is all but over with reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain 10 points clear with two games in hand, but a young Lille side are eyeing a return to the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2012.
“What a match, I’m really proud of my players,” said Lille coach Christophe Galtier. “We must not forget that we played for more than an hour and 20 minutes with 10 men.
“With the added time, it was a very long and hard match physically.”
The northern club sit five points clear of third-placed Montpellier, but after a raft of postponements in the top flight due to the ‘yellow jacket’ protests, Lille have also played two matches more.
Portuguese teenager Rafael Leao headed Lille into a fourth-minute lead, but Galtier’s men suffered a setback when former Southampton centre-back Jose Fonte was sent off in the 16th minute.
Jonathan Bamba’s deflected effort doubled the advantage shortly before the interval, though, and Pepe appeared to have made the points safe midway through the second half with his 12th goal of the campaign.
The 10 men finally started to tire late on, but Lille held on for victory despite Nimes goals from Rachid Alioui and Clement Depres