Clermont's Japanese wing Kotaro Matsushima in action on Friday / © AFP
Alex Lozowski converted three late penalties as Montpellier fought back to beat visiting Clermont 22-16 on Friday and pull further away from the Top 14 danger zone.
The visitors could have gone second in the table with a victory and had chances in the seesaw final minutes.
A pass by Japanese fullback Kotaro Matsushima that sent Sebastien Bezy in for a try was ruled forward with five minutes left.
Then, with Montpellier only three points ahead, French international Camille Lopez missed a penalty with two minutes to play.
Montpellier coach Philippe Saint-Andre guided his team to a third victory in four league games which kept them 11th and put a little daylight between them and Pau and Bayonne, the other two teams battling to avoid finishing 13th and facing a relegation playoff.
The game was the first in a run of six games in which Montpellier face the top six teams in the division one after the other.
The defeat halted a three-match winning run by Clermont whose coach, Franck Azema, already announced he will be leaving after the season - to take over at Montpellier.
Fullback Anthony Bouthier gave Montpellier the lead after 10 minutes but Alivereti Raka replied for the visitors before half time.
Lopez kicked Clermont ahead, but Montpellier, who have struggled in 'money time' this season, and their English kicker Lozowski, who finished with 17 points, held their nerve.
"We don't want Montpellier to drop down to the second division. We didn't give up. We didn't panic. We won this arm wrestling match," said Saint-Andre.
Bouthier was in the France Six Nations squad until their campaign was derailed by Covid-19
"Anthony Bouthier, who wanted to play, played a good match despite the cramps," said Saint-Andre. "We're going to do everything we can to stay in the top 14".