Le Mans looked doomed to relegation after they suffered their fourth consecutive defeat away to fellow strugglers St Etienne at the Stade Geoffrey-Guichard tonight.
Second-half goals from Cedric Varrault and Yohan Benalouane ensured a vital win for St Etienne who while being just a place above the drop zone, now have a nine-point buffer over the relegation places.
Le Mans, however, look set to be relegated with the gap behind their conquerors now an almost insurmountable 11 points with eight games left to play.
St Etienne's victory was tarnished slightly when Kevin Mirallas was dismissed in the 83rd minute when he seemed to accidentally elbow Sebastien Corchia.
The visitors had started brightly with home goalkeeper Jeremie Janot doing well to keep out Corchia's deflected free-kick before also denying Rolland Lamah in the opening 20 minutes.
St Etienne's first chance arrived in the 21st minute when Dimitri Payet shot wide.
The hosts were denied an opening goal soon after when Didier Ovono made a superb save to keep out Pape Diakhat's header after Payet's free-kick had picked him out.
St Etienne came close again four minutes after the break when Blaise Matuidi met a Payet cross but his firm header rebounded back off the woodwork.
Ovono was then needed to punch clear after Gonzalo Bergessio's slalom run and shot.
It was no surprise when St Etienne went ahead after 54 minutes. Ovono left his line to punch Payet's corner, but his attempted clearance was weak and fell for Bergessio who headed across for Varrault to nod in.
Payet's delivery had been causing Le Mans' defence problems all afternoon and the winger was at the heart of the second goal after 74 minutes.
This time he spotted Benalouane's run with a clever long pass from inside his half that the striker made no mistake to make the points safe.
Mirallas almost added a third when he fired against the frame of the goal, but his match ended prematurely when he was harshly shown a straight red card after tangling with Corchia.