Mario Balotelli was sent off on his return to the Nice team but Lucien Favre’s side held on for a 1-0 win at Lorient on Saturday which sees them close the gap on Ligue 1 leaders Monaco.
Wylan Cyprien scored the only goal of the game in Brittany, collecting Arnaud Souquet’s pass and firing home from inside the area in the 15th minute.
The result allowed Nice to go back above Paris Saint-Germain into second place and close to within three points of Monaco, who could only draw 1-1 at Bastia on Friday.
“To win away from home does us good and it is well deserved because we had to hold on at 10 against 11,” Favre said.
“We saw how difficult it is for all teams with the Monaco result, so logically it was going to be difficult for us too.”
Balotelli was sent off after apparently talking out of turn to match referee Tony Chapron midway through the second half.
It was his third red card this season in the French top flight, although his first, also against Lorient back in October, was later overturned.
“I didn’t see what happened. All of a sudden the card came out. Apparently there were words,” said Favre.
The Italian, who has scored nine league goals, has endured a frustrating couple of weeks — he was dropped from the team for a 1-0 win against Saint-Etienne and then missed last week’s draw at Rennes due to illness, but returned in Lorient in place of injured leading scorer Alassane Plea.
It was a first away win since the end of November for Nice, while Lorient remain rooted to the foot of the table.
Defending champions PSG, fresh from their famous win against Barcelona in the Champions League in midweek, can leapfrog Nice again and cut Monaco’s lead to a single point if they beat Toulouse at the Parc des Princes on Sunday night.
– Marseille win without Gomis –
Elsewhere, Marseille overcame the absence of injured leading scorer Bafetimbi Gomis to beat Rennes 2-0 and boost their hopes of European qualification.
Clinton Njie and Florian Thauvin, the latter with a superb strike, both netted in the second half for the hosts as Marseille moved to within a point of fourth-placed Lyon, albeit having played two games more.
“We had an obligation to win here and it was quite an accomplished performance,” said Marseille coach Rudi Garcia, whose team face great rivals PSG next.
“Life without Bafe is possible, but in a different style. Now we have eight days before the match against PSG, but first of all we will enjoy this result.”
On-loan Swansea City striker Gomis, scorer of 16 league goals this season, suffered a knee injury in last weekend’s defeat at Nantes that will rule him out for around a month.
Njie, filling in as the central striker, fired home first-time after the ball broke to him inside the area to open the scoring just before the hour mark.
Five minutes later Marseille had scored again thanks to a superb goal from Thauvin as he smashed a shot high into the net on his left foot to make it 2-0.
There was no way back after that for Rennes, who have now gone 10 league games without a win.
Lille eased their relegation fears with a 1-0 win at fellow strugglers Caen in their first game under new coach Franck Passi.
They had defender Adama Soumaoro sent off just after the hour mark but Anwar El Ghazi, a January signing from Ajax, struck the only goal of the game with 20 minutes left.
Giant Malian striker Cheick Diabate’s late penalty secured a 1-1 draw for Metz at home to Nantes and Angers beat Nancy 1-0. – Agence France-Presse