- Associated Press - Friday, January 20, 2017

PARIS (AP) - Despite Mario Balotelli’s return, Nice dropped more points in the French title race after drawing 1-1 at Corsican side Bastia on Friday.

Although Nice moved one point ahead of Monaco at the top of the league, prior to this weekend’s matches, it was Nice’s third straight league draw.

Last weekend, it was held 0-0 at home by struggling Metz, with Balotelli suspended for that game.

Balotelli was on target from a free kick in injury time, but otherwise made only a fleeting impression against a motivated Bastia side that had midfielder Yannick Cahuzac sent off midway through the second half.

“It’s definitely two points lost because we really had the chance to win this game,” Nice midfielder Vincent Koziello said. “Our final pass wasn’t good enough. We had one or two chances but that’s not enough.”

Midfielder Prince Oniangue, who is on loan from second-tier English side Wolverhampton, scored on his Bastia debut in the 17th minute, prompting a raucous reaction from the home side at the compact 20,000-capacity Armand Cesari Stadium.

Right back Arnaud Souquet quietened them down when he equalized in the 33rd.

But Bastia was the better team in the first half, closing Nice down with frenetic pressure.

Bastia striker Sadio Diallo was man-marking Nice’s Brazilian center half Dante and with good reason, considering the former Bayern Munich player is an excellent passer of the ball and launches attacks from the back.

The opening goal came after Nice sloppily lost possession probing around Bastia’s penalty area.

The ball was quickly played up to the left wing, where veteran midfielder Gael Danic skipped past two challenges and floated a pass into the area to Diallo. His scuffed shot fell to Oniangue on the right of the area, and he drilled a slightly deflected shot into the bottom left corner.

It did not please Balotelli, who showed signs of frustration because the failed pass that led to the breakaway was intended for him.

Shortly after, Balotelli tried to dribble from the halfway line and lost possession. Later in the half, he scooped his first half-chance way over the crossbar.

Nice improved toward the end of the first half and Souquet timed his run to the front post perfectly to head in midfielder Wylan Cyprien’s corner.

Balotelli got the chance he craved early in the second half, but volleyed straight at goalkeeper Jean-Louis Leca. The crowd then roared with mockery when he skewed a free kick high and well wide soon after.

Balotelli has scored eight goals in 10 league games after joining on a free transfer from Liverpool, but none away from home.

Monaco is at home to 19th-placed Lorient on Sunday and defending champion Paris Saint-Germain is away at improving Nantes on Saturday.

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