Scarlets edge Racing to stay alive
Ulster beat Montpellier 27-16 on Friday, but failed to grab a crucial fourth try which would have guaranteed them a European Cup quarterfinal place.
The Irish province racked up a fifth win in five Pool Five matches to give them a seven-point lead over Leicester Tigers.
However, the English giants should close the gap with a win at group whipping boys Treviso on Saturday, before a potential pool decider at Welford Road against Ulster next weekend.
Ulster had looked in control, but never particularly comfortable in the first 40 minutes at Ravenhill against a Montpellier side which had lost six of their last seven matches.
Having slipped down 0-3 to a seventh-minute penalty from Eric Escande, Ulster were swiftly on top with two tries in three minutes.
Paddy Jackson's accurate cross-field kick was calmly collected by flank Robbie Diack to dive over for his third career try in the tournament.
South African scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar kicked a difficult conversion from tight on the touchline for a 7-3 lead.
Pienaar added his team's second try on 26 minutes after collecting his own kick ahead.
His simple conversion made it 14-3 but Ulster took their foot off the gas and ended up going in at just 17-13 in front at the interval.
Montpellier lock Robins Tchale-Watchou burst through for 14-8 with Escande adding the extras.
Pienaar and Escande then exchanged penalties before half-time.
A penalty apiece followed early in the second half before former All Blacks prop John Afoa barrelled through for Ulster's third try just before hour mark.
Pienaar added the conversion for a personal haul of 17 points on the night but some dogged defence from Montpellier prevented Ulster from grabbing the bonus point try.
* In Friday's other match, Scarlets beat Racing Metro 19-13 in Pool Four.
The result means Scarlets' quarterfinal hopes stay alive for another day at least, after they stunned Racing at the Stade Yves-du-Manoir.
ASM Clermont Auvergne remain in the driving seat to qualify from Pool Four, with Harlequins hot on their heels ahead of Saturday's mouth-watering match up at the Twickenham Stoop, but Scarlets are mathematically still in with a shout of a place in the last eight.
Young wing Kristian Phillips was their match winner, with his stunning solo score just past the hour handing them a six-point lead that they never relinquished.
Wales flyhalf Rhys Priestland picked up the Man of the Match award with an assured display that ended with a 14-point haul courtesy of four penalties from five attempts and the conversion of Phillips' try.
British & Irish Lions stars Jonny Sexton and Mike Phillips stood out for Racing, with the scrumhalf grabbing his side's early try, but the Scarlets deservedly stopped a run of six straight defeats.
Friday's scores and scorers!
Ulster 27-16 Montpellier
Tries: Diack, Pienaar, Afoa
Cons: Pienaar 3
Pens: Pienaar 2
Pens: Escande 3
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (captain), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Roger Wilson, 21 Sean Doyle, 22 Paul Marshall, 23 Michael Allen.
Montpellier: 15 Anthony Floch, 14 Yohann Artru, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Thomas Combezou, 11 Lucas Dupont, 10 Enzo Selponi, 9 Eric Escande, 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Alexandre Bias, 6 Kellen Galletier, 5 Robins Tchale Watchou, 4 Mickael Demarco, 3 Maximiliano Bustos, 2 Charles Geli (captain), 1 Na'ama Leleimalefaga.
Replacements: 16 Thomas Bianchin, 17 Mikheil Nariashvili, 18 Paea Fa'anunu, 19 Mickael Ivaldi, 20 Fred Quercy, 21 Benoit Paillaugue, 22 Pierre Berard, 23 Timoci Nagusa.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Tim Wigglesworth (England), Stuart Terheege (England)
TMO: Sean Davey (England)
Racing Métro 92 13-19 Scarlets
For Racing Métro 92:
Pens: Sexton 2
Pens: Priestland 4
Racing Métro 92: 15 Benjamin Fall, 14 Juan Imhoff, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Jonny Sexton, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Jacques Cronje, 7 Dan Lydiate, 6 Antoine Battut, 5 Fabrice Metz, 4 Karim Ghezal, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Virgile Lacombe, 1 Julien Brugnaut
Replacements: 16 Jerome Maurouard, 17 Soane Tonga'uiha, 18 Luc Dulcacon, 19 Juandre Kruger, 20 Camille Gerondeau, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Benjamin Dambielle, 23 Alexandre Dumoulin
Scarlets: 15 Aled Thomas, 14 Kristian Phillips, 13 Nick Reynolds, 12 Scott Williams, 11 Frazier Climo, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Rob McCusker (captain), 7 John Barclay, 6 Aaron Shingler, 5 Johan Snyman, 4 Jake Ball, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Phil John
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Rob Evans, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Richard Kelly, 20 Josh Turnbull, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Gareth Maule, 23 Jordan Williams
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Martin Fox (England), Robin Goodliffe (England)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)