An injury-time Rod Fanni goal gave Marseille a barely-deserved 1-0 win over Valenciennes on Saturday to move the former champions within five points of leaders Paris Saint Germain.
With PSG fans drooling over the prospect of David Beckham making his debut for the club against longtime rivals Marseille next Sunday the latter, whose last league crown came in 2010, were determined to set themselves up as realistic title challengers.
The southerners laboured for much of the game but Fanni took the hosts onto 46 points from 25 games, five shy of PSG ahead of the Parisians' encounter Sunday at Sochaux, but one ahead of Lyon, who travel to Bordeaux.
Marseille fans will hope their side produce rather more scintillating football in next week's French 'clasico' than they did for long periods against a Valenciennes side destined to spend the season comfortably ensconced in mid-table.
But defender Fanni insisted his side were good value for their win.
"We deserved it as we had more chances than Valenciennes. We gave it a real go in the first half and I said in the dressing room at half-time we had to calm things down -- we couldn't risk losing this chance to get back on track," said Fanni.
"We were able to go back out and get the result."
For much of the second half the fare at the Stade Velodrome bordered on the soporific and minds appeared to be elsewhere, as suggested by the J-8 slogan Marseille had on their kit -- that is, eight days to go to the game which really matters.
PSG, with Beckham on board to boost their profile and buoyed by an away success in Valencia which means they have one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals, insist this will be their year.
They have not won the French title since 1994 and their only European trophy was a Cup Winners Cup success two years later.
But they have been bankrolled the past two summers by their Qatari owners and their jigsaw is now taking shape as they bid to become only the second French club to taste European Cup glory since Marseille lifted the trophy 20 years ago.
Fanni's late winner, a right-footed strike dispatching a Jeremy Morel cross, ensured Marseille enjoyed their first league win bonus in a month after it seemed they would drop vital home points.
Marseille did show their combative nature prior to the goal, though not in the manner that coach Elie Baup might have hoped as Morgan Amalfitano was booked and could have seen red for a foul on Lindsay Rose.
Minutes earlier, English midfielder Joey Barton also had his name taken after catching David Ducourtioux with an elbow.
Defending champions Montpellier are inching up the table after a poor first half of the season after winning their maiden title.
They now stand ninth, four points behind fourth-placed Nice, following Argentine striker Emanuel Herrera's only goal of the game against struggling Nancy.
Former Arsenal striker Jeremie Aladiere meanwhile scored from the spot as his Lorient side moved into seventh spot, just a point behind Breton rivals Rennes, with a 2-1 win over Evian.
On Friday, Lille moved to within three points of fourth-placed Saint Etienne with a 2-0 win at home to Rennes.