Nice overtook Marseille to lead the French Ligue 1 on goal difference last night.
Lyon meanwhile had a chance to climb above both Nice and Marseille but failed to makeany inroads as they lost away to Bastia.
Nice may have expected a win at second bottom Montpellier in order to put some daylight between them and their nearest rivals, but in the end were thankful for the draw which saw them go back on top.
Cedric Barbosa was on target twice for Montpellier, giving them the lead both times. But Nice levelled through Cherrard and then Kaba Diawara’s tenth goal of the campaign. They have 38 points from 22 games.
Mid-table Bastia proved too strong for Lyon, second half goals from Essien and Lyon-born Maurice earning them a 2-0 home win.
Lyon remain third, 2 points behind the top two. They will have to do better against this level ofopposition if they are to retain the title.
Auxerre gainedground on the leaders with a 2-0 victory at Guingamp. Djibril Cisse, the speedy young French striker currently being courted by various European outfits, bagged both goals.
Auxerre climb to fifth, level on 35 points with Monaco, who drew at Sochaux. With only three points separating the top five teams, it promises to be a very close finish this season. Three games were postponed due to frozen pitches elsewhere in France.