Valenciennes ended an encouraging first half to the Ligue 1 season on a high note with a hard-fought 2-1 win over 10-man Evian .

Goals from Gregory Pujol and Jose Saez saw the hosts to a victory that means they will spend the winter break inside the top seven.

Saber Khelifa equalised for Evian in the first half but they had no response to Valenciennes' second goal, which came just moments after the visitors had lost Djakaridja Kone to a 71st-minute red card.

VA's Mathieu Dossevi also missed a second-half penalty.

The mood was good in the home camp ahead of kick-off after coach Daniel Sanchez agreed a one-year contract extension in the week, but it was the relegation-battling visitors who threatened first, Olivier Sorlin's free-kick bringing a good save from Nicolas Penneteau.

Valenciennes replied with a dangerous attack in the eighth minute, Dossevi whipping a cross in from the right for Pujol to attempt a sublime back-heel which forced Bertrand Laquait to turn the ball to safety.

The hosts took the lead in the 14th minute after Rudy Mater lofted a cross into the area and Pujol benefited from some poor defending by Aldo Angoula to slot home.

With 31 minutes gone Pujol went down in the area under challenge from Angoula but the referee was unmoved.

A minute later Evian were level, the goal coming against the run of play as Yannick Sagbo played in Khelifa who dispatched a superb right-footed shot beyond Penneteau.

Three minutes into the second half the hosts had a chance to restore their lead when Opa Nguette was brought down by Brice Dja Djedje in the area only for Dossevi to screw the resulting penalty wide of the left post.

Evian's hopes of snatching an unlikely win took a nosedive when Kone left Nguette in a heap on the floor after a nasty looking challenge and he was shown a straight red.

And within two minutes the hosts profited as Anthony Le Tallec knocked down a long pass into the path of Saez, who took a touch before firing home from 18 yards.

There was almost late drama when VA's Nicolas Isimat-Mirin appeared to handle in the area, but the referee waved play on in the face of desperate Evian pleas for a penalty.