LOSC Lille Métropole took a significant step towards securing a first-ever qualification for the UEFA Champions League knockout stage as late goals from Daniel Gygax and Jean II Makoun earned a 3-1 victory over Group H rivals AEK Athens FC in France.
The northerners still trail AC Milan by two points at the top of the standings, but are three points clear of RSC Anderlecht - their Matchday 5 opponents - with three rounds to play. Qualification seemed a distant dream when AEK substitute Vladimir Ivić took just four minutes to cancel out Mathieu Robail's 64th-minute opener. In a carbon copy of their first breakthrough, however, substitute Gygax converted Kader Keita's dangerous cross with eight minutes remaining, before Makoun sealed the result in added time.
Lille's main failing of late has been their hesitancy in the opening period of games, but there was a patent urgency to their play right from the off and they could have taken the lead as early as the second minute when visiting goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino cleared straight to Yohan Cabaye under pressure from Peter Odemwingie. Deemed fit enough to start, the France Under-21 midfielder mishit his first-time lob, and soon afterwards directed a shot straight at Sorrentino from the edge of the area.
Having not played since 30 September, AEK gradually warmed to their task and threatened when Emerson headed narrowly over from a corner. Likewise, Dániel Tözsér found space on the left to send in a vicious low drive that fizzed past Tony Sylva's far post. Those appeared to be temporary blips when Sorrentino was forced to keep out a point-blank Mathieu Bodmer header, but with 30 minutes gone Júlio César prompted a spectacular diving stop from Sylva with a curling effort from 20 metres that seemed destined for the top-left corner.
Odemwingie off target
That signalled a difficult spell for the hosts, yet they almost broke the deadlock at the close of the half when Odemwingie's deflected strike fell kindly to Robail who could only find the side-netting. Odemwingie will also feel he should have done better when released by Keita's probing cross shortly after the restart, his attempt from distance lacking the power to trouble Sorrentino.
Indeed, with both defences snuffing out openings and the match locked in midfield, it was no surprise when Lille introduced forward Kevin Mirallas. Although the Belgian was not directly involved in the move that followed, the hosts were celebrating after Keita cut inside Bruno Cirillo on the touchline and, spotting Robail in front of goal, fired in a low centre that his team-mate turned in confidently.
It was exactly what the home fans had been crying out for, yet they were silenced moments later when Nikolaos Liberopoulos set up Ivić to crack a powerful shot past an immobile Sylva. Just 21 minutes after coming on, Ivić then left the game on a stretcher following a clash with Keita. There was more drama to come, however, as Gygax stabbed in another Keita assist before Makoun's fine finish added gloss to a successful night's work.