21st May, 2012
Super Eagles invitee, Nigerian John Utaka was the hero late Sunday night as he scored the two goals that led Montpellier to win their first-ever French Ligue 1 title.
Reports from the French media say Utaka’s team came from behind to win 2-1 at Auxerre, in a match that was delayed for half an hour due to several outbreaks of hooliganism.
Montpellier just needed to draw against their relegated hosts, but the match was repeatedly delayed after home fans threw tennis balls, tomatoes, toilet paper and flares on the pitch in a pre-meditated protest at their dreadful season.
At one point visiting players refused to take the pitch, with police called to evacuate the stands.
When play eventually restarted, John Utaka scored a second goal to give his side a 2-1 win and confirmed their maiden title. Big spending Paris St Germain, who had been expected to run away with the title, had to settle for second place despite a 2-1 win at Lorient.
That match too had its problems when, in the first half, the match was suspended for five minutes after PSG supporters threw a flare on to the pitch following an early goal for Lorient.
The L1 leaders journeyed to Burgundy knowing a point would be sufficient to pick up the title, but though already condemned to Ligue 2 football next season, the hosts did everything they could to poop the visitors’ party.
Olivier Kapo gave Auxerre a 20th-minute lead while their disgruntled fans threw tennis balls onto the Stade Abbé Deschamps pitch in protest, which held up the second half by some ten minutes, before further disturbances meant the final 20 minutes were played after all the evening’s other games had already finished.
That meant a nervous wait once news of Paris Saint-Germain’s victory at FC Lorient filtered through, but Utaka’s 32nd-minute equaliser and the Nigerian’s second 15 minutes from time proved enough for René Girard’s men to end the season three points clear of the club from the capital atop the table.
The hosts’ fate was already sealed prior to kick-off, but they were clearly determined to ensure their top-flight swansong would be remembered. Anthony Le Tallec fired a shot wide early on before Kapo stunned the champions-elect, nodding home after Roy Contout’s shot had flashed in his direction.
Montpellier had not been without their own chances, however. Olivier Giroud would have added to his joint-L1-high tally but for a last-ditch clearance while Souleymane Camara lost his one-on-one with Olivier Sorin. The Auxerre number one was beaten soon after, though, when Camara teed up Utaka to tuck away an opportunity from close range.
Giroud then tried his luck from distance only to fail to hit the target, and Marco Estrada sent a free-kick goalwards though picked out a well-positioned Sorin.
The Auxerre ‘keeper might have been picking the ball out of his net again before the break had Jamel Saïhi’s long-range shot was on target – Sorin must have been mightily relieved to see the ball zip narrowly wide of an upright.
The players emerged after the break, but quickly found themselves back in the dressing-room after the home fans decided to protest at their club’s predicament, action which left Geoffrey Jourdren’s goal inundated with tennis balls and meaning referee Saïd Ennjimi decided both teams should be taken off the field of play.
The more than ten minutes they remained in the dressing-room did not dampen Montpellier’s enthusiasm for going forward, however, and Giroud’s intelligent movement almost brought a breakthrough as the French international forward twice connected at the near post only for a combination of good defending and Sorin’s alertness to deny him.
Delvin Ndinga could have really dampened the mood with a vicious long-range shot that Jourdren did well to punch to safety, but after crowd disturbances provoked a lengthy pause in play, Utaka struck his second to propel his club into French football history.