By Matthew Spiro in Marseille
Olympique de Marseille clawed their way into contention in UEFA Champions League Group F on Wednesday, securing a hard-fought 3-0 win over ten-man FK Partizan at the Stade Vélodrome. The match swung the French team's way on the stroke of half-time when Partizan striker Andrija Delibašic was sent off for a second bookable offence.
A scrappy opening period was notable only for the high number of misplaced passes as both sides struggled to come to terms with the windy conditions. Marseille's Didier Drogba was the first player to have a shot in anger - but his drive from the edge of the penalty area sailed over.
While Marseille enjoyed the early territorial advantage, Partizan posed a constant threat on the counterattack and Vedran Runje had to race quickly off his line to save at the feet of Ivica Iliev in the seventh minute.
Partizan defender Taribo West made a timely interception to prevent Ahmed Hossam 'Mido' from going through in the 14th minute - but Marseille did penetrate the visitors' defence two minutes later. Sébastien Pérez's drilled cross from the right was flicked cleverly goalward by the lively Drogba, but his shot bounced back off the outside of the near post.
The clearest opening of the half arrived in the 34th minute, as Camel Meriem won possession in midfield before delivering a perfectly-weighted diagonal pass through for Drogba. The Marseille striker had space to control the ball but instead opted to shoot first time and volleyed over the top with just Radovan Radakovic to beat.
The opening brought both the home crowd to life and Marseille finished the first half on top. Steve Marlet thundered a shot into the side-netting from the right side of the penalty area on 41 minutes, before Radakovic tipped a Mido header round his near post for a corner.
Partizan were dealt a major blow in first-half added time when Delibašic was sent off for a second bookable offence. The striker, who had picked up his first yellow card in the 41st minute, was given his marching orders for simulation in the penalty area.
After regrouping at half-time, it was the ten men of Partizan who started the second period better and almost broke the deadlock five minutes in. Nikola Malbaša capitalised on some hesitant Marseille defending on the left, cut the ball back for Ilic, but his low shot from near the penalty spot was cleared off the line by Abdoulaye Méïté.
Marseille were soon in the ascendancy, however, and they drew first blood in the 63rd minute. Mido jinked between two defenders on the right before crossing into the box where Drogba arrived at the same time as Radakovic. When the ricochet favoured the Marseille man, he had the simple task of prodding the ball over the line.
The home fans erupted with joy, and they had more to celebrate five minutes later. Meriem's cross from the left wing picked out Drogba unmarked in the penalty area and he guided the ball high into the net for his and Marseille's second of the game.
Partizan refused to give up, but Radakovic was still the busier of the two goalkeepers, however, and he reacted well to parry a drive from substitute Dmitri Sytchev in the 77th minute. Drogba sealed a great night for Marseille when he completed his hat-trick nine minutes from full time, racing on to a return pass from Sytchev to slot coolly over the advancing Radakovic.