Paris, Feb 20: Paris Saint-Germain needed a late equalizer to salvage a 2-2 draw with an impressive Montpellier team and keep a one-point lead over its opponent at the top of the French league on Sunday.
Jeremy Menez's dribbling skills enabled PSG to level in the 88th minute, the winger dancing around Montpellier defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa to set up Guillaume Hoarau for a tap-in.
PSG center back Alex opened the scoring with a powerful strike from 30 yards in the 41st minute. But Montpellier playmaker Younes Belhanda equalized with a downward header in the 45th.
Nigerian forward John Utaka gave Montpellier the lead by heading home a pinpoint cross from Olivier Giroud in the 82nd minute.
"We're happy to take one point tonight because we could have lost that match," Hoarau said. "We'll have to go and get the title. Montpellier's second place is no fluke. They deserve it."
Also, Lyon received a setback in its quest for a Champions League spot after losing 1-0 at Bordeaux, and Saint-Etienne routed Rennes 4-0 to rise to sixth, level on points with Marseille, Lyon and Rennes.
At Parc des Princes, Montpellier dominated possession in the opening minutes with Belhanda, Jamel Saihi and Marco Estrada pulling the strings in midfield.
Henri Bedimo charged down the left flank to cross for Montpellier striker Olivier Giroud, but PSG fullback Sherrer Maxwell rushed back to knock the ball out for a corner after two minutes.
Belhanda showed his class in the ninth minute by dribbling past three players and releasing Utaka down the left wing. Utaka cut inside to fire a shot that goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu punched away. Giroud pounced on the rebound but Sirigu dived to stop the striker's low effort.
PSG's first chance came in the 23rd. France international Kevin Gameiro collected a pass from Brazilian midfielder Nene to shoot straight at goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourdren from 15 yards.
Although PSG was playing at home, the hosts were wary of a Montpellier side which has the most potent attack in the league. PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti filled his midfield with three bal-lwinners — Thiago Motta, Mohamed Sissoko and Blaise Matuidi.
PSG nearly capitalized on a turnover from Montpellier in the 31st. Menez played Gameiro in, but the PSG striker fired over from the edge of the box.
The hosts broke the deadlock from an indirect free kick. Nene rolled the ball for Alex with a backheeled flick, and the former Chelsea defender beat a wrongfooted Jourdren with a swerving bullet-like shot that was clocked at 107 kilometers per hour.
Belhanda connected on a cross from Vitorino Hilton to power a header past Sirigu on the stroke of halftime, however.
"The team struggled a bit to build plays from behind," Ancelotti said. "It's a good result. We had a great reaction at the end.
"Montpellier played well and showed a lot of quality, individually and as a team. I think it will be a rival for the title."
PSG attempted to be more attacking in the second half, and Maxwell pounced on a loose ball in the 52nd to drag a close-range shot wide from a tight angle.
Javier Pastore came off the bench to replace Sissoko in the 75th. The Argentine playmaker received a pass from Hoarau but chipped wide from eight yards only two minutes later.
Utaka didn't miss the target soon after. He eluded PSG center back Diego Lugano's marking to beat Sirigu with a downward header. But a mazy run from Menez helped PSG earn a point in the closing minutes.
"We're proud of ourselves and we know that we can compete with the big teams," Belhanda said. "We leave Paris with one point and that's good for the rest of the season."
In Bordeaux, forward Yoan Gouffran scored with a close-range header from a corner by Ludovic Obraniak in the 41st minute.
Lyon slipped to fifth place, three points behind third-place Lille in the final Champions League spot. Lille has a game in hand.
"It's a big disappointment," Lyon defender Samuel Umtiti said. "We had control of the game but without really creating chances. Bordeaux was very solid defensively."
In Saint-Etienne, Jean-Pascal Mignot headed in a cross from Romania playmaker Banel Nicolita in the 24th. Laurent Batlles doubled the lead by sliding in a cross from Bakary Sako in the 53rd.
Sako's powerful strike made it 3-0 in the 67th, before Ivory Coast winger Max Gradel sealed the win by converting a rebound in the 78th.
"It was a perfect match in terms of solidarity, desire and determination," Saint-Etienne midfielder Fabien Lemoine said. "We didn't have many chances but we managed to convert them."
On Saturday, it was: Lorient 0, Lille 1; Marseille 1, Valenciennes 1; Nancy 0, Toulouse 3; Ajaccio 0, Brest 0; Caen 2, Evian 2; Dijon 3, Nice 0 and Sochaux 0, Auxerre 0.