Phil Davies questioned Lloyd Williams' first-half red card after Cardiff Blues crashed out of Europe with a third straight defeat. The Wales scrum-half was given his marching orders only 25 minutes into this showdown after making a dangerous tip-tackle.
The 14-man Blues put in a brave and spirited performance but it was not enough as Montpellier capitalised on the numerical advantage to keep their Pool Six hopes alive.
Yoan Audrin scampered over for the first try just five minutes after Williams was sent for an early shower, and the French outfit added two more through Mamuka Gorgodze and Timoci Nagusa after the break. Davies, the Cardiff Blues director of rugby, was frustrated by Irish referee John Lacey's decision, but praised his side's fighting spirit. "I'm not sure it was the right decision. It was a bit of a rustic challenge; I think we will contest it but we will have to have another look," he said.
"The way we adjusted and played after that was really pleasing. Overall, I thought the effort and determination was fantastic."
Cardiff went into the encounter deprived of 10 players, including their Wales trio Bradley Davies, Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny; they were dealt a further blow when openside flanker Sam Warburton was forced to pull out with a chest infection.
However, Cardiff fought superbly, and the boot of the impressive teenager Rhys Patchell kept them in touch until the last 10 minutes. It was not enough, though. Davies added: "For a guy who is just 19, Rhys was outstanding today. He stood out because of his maturity, his goal-kicking is excellent and his kicking out of hand is pretty good, too. He has a great temperament, a great skill-set and a fantastic work ethic."
The fly-half, making his first Heineken Cup appearance, booted the Blues into the lead after just two minutes, but Montpellier responded on 10 minutes when Benoît Paillaugue hit back after the giant French pack flexed their muscles up front.
However, the contest took a major turn for the worse for the hosts when Williams was sent off. The ball squirted out of a Blues scrum, Paillaugue pounced and Williams flipped his opposite number on to his head with an unintentional but reckless tip-tackle.
The incident brought memories of Wales' World Cup heartbreak in Auckland flooding back as once again a Welshman, a Frenchman and an Irishman combined to produce a devastating red card.
Paillaugue slotted the ensuing penalty, forcing the fired-up Blues to storm back with a drop-goal from the nerveless Patchell. But it did not take long for Montpellier to capitalise on their numerical advantage and, after attacking with gusto down the right, the ball was spread to the opposite wing where Thomas Combezou sent Audrin flying over. Paillaugue kicked the touchline conversion and added a penalty, after Patchell responded with three points of his own, to hand his side a narrow 19-15 lead at the interval.
Patchell continued his impressive form with the boot , landing a monster penalty but Montpellier quickly struck with a second try: Paillaugue and Santiago Fernandez combined to make the initial inroads and Gorgodze eventually drove over from close range.
Patchell responded once again for the home team, kicking his seventh penalty, but the diminutive French scrum-half put the result beyond doubt before Nagusa rubbed further salt into Welsh wounds.
Scorers: Cardiff Blues: Penalties: Patchell 7; Drop-goal Patchell. Montpellier: Tries Audrin, Gorgodze, Nagusa; Conversion Paillaugue; Penalties Paillaugue 6.
Cardiff Blues: J Tovey (L Jones 40); A Cuthbert, G Evans, D Hewitt, H Robinson (O Williams 66); R Patchell, L Williams; S Hobbs (T Filise 57), M Breeze (R Williams 57), S Andrews (B Bourrust 63), L Reed, J Down, R Copeland (L Hamilton 66), A Pretorius (capt), J Navidi.
Montpellier: B Thiery (T Nagusa 56); Y Audrin, T Combezou, P Bosch, P Berard; S Fernandez, B Paillaugue; M Nariashvili (Y Watremez 50), A Creevy (E Van Vuuren 50), M Bustos (B Fa'amausili 73), D Hancke(M De Marco 62), A Fakate, A Bias (K Galletier 66), M Gorgodze (capt), J Beattie.
Referee: J Lacey (Ireland).