(Wraps after late action, adds quotes)
By Patrick Vignal
PARIS, March 3 (Reuters) - Olympique Lyon took a decisive step towards a record sixth consecutive title when they thrashed bitter rivals St Etienne 3-1 in a Ligue 1 derby marred by crowd trouble on Saturday.
The match was halted for 20 minutes after a flare was fired from a section packed with Lyon fans towards St Etienne supporters, one of whom sent it back.
Police then moved in and sprayed tear gas, which prompted referee Tony Chapron to send the players back to the dressing rooms in the 52nd minute.
“It’s really a pity,” said Lyon midfielder Florent Malouda. “You don’t come to a stadium to see that kind of thing. Let’s hope it never happens again.”
Lyon were 3-0 up when the incidents started. The flare was launched after St Etienne supporters unfolded in provocation a banner they had stolen from Lyon fans. Lyon, who will host AS Roma in the Champions League on Tuesday, had already wrapped up the win with goals by Kim Kallstrom, Tiago and Fred.
“It’s never easy to play in a hostile atmosphere but it was a clear victory,” said Lyon coach Gerard Houllier.
Lyon have 61 points from 27 matches and enjoy a 16-point lead over second-placed Racing Lens, who travel to Olympique Marseille on Sunday.
St Etienne, who have now lost their last four home league games and have not won a derby against Lyon since 1994, dropped to sixth on 39 points.
Les Verts got off to a flying start with striker Bafetimbi Gomis a constant threat to the Lyon rearguard perfectly marshalled by Brazilian centre back Cris.
LOW DRIVE However, following a bad clearance by the St Etienne defence, Sweden midfielder Kallstrom opened the scoring from just inside the box with a low drive that wrong-footed keeper Jeremie Janot in the 28th minute.
Nine minutes later, Tiago stunned the hosts with a fine 18-metre lob to double the tally.
Fred put the result beyond doubt two minutes into the second half with a free kick that curled into Janot’s top corner.
Gomis scored a consolation goal with 11 minutes remaining.
Lille moved up to third with a 4-0 demolition of lowly Troyes featuring two goals each from Ivory Coast striker Kader Keita and midfielder Stephane Dumont.
Paris St Germain dropped into the relegation zone with a 2-0 defeat at fellow strugglers Sedan.
PSG goalkeeper Mickael Landreau put Sedan in front by deflecting a cross into his own net on seven minutes. Forward Mansour Boutabout wrapped it up from close range on 74 minutes.
The match in Sedan was tense because of the presence of a handful of Dutch hooligans.
They apparently travelled to the eastern city to provoke the Parisian supporters, who have a record for violence. A few fights erupted in town before the match but no major incidents were reported during the game.
The capital club are now third from bottom, one place above Sedan, who leave the bottom spot to Nantes, visiting Sochaux on Sunday. (Additional reporting by Edward Jay in St Etienne and Christophe Michel in Sedan)