Not even the eagerly anticipated return of Lukas Podolski could stop Cologne slumping to a 2-0 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga’s Rhine derby on Saturday.
Cologne fans had their hopes pinned on the striker who scored half of their side’s league goals this season but Podolski was unable to exert his usual influence after four weeks out injured.
Instead, Germany team-mate Lars Bender scored twice for Leverkusen to leave Cologne two points off the relegation places after six defeats in seven games.
“These are hard times for us,” Cologne coach Stale Solbakken said after his side’s third straight defeat.
Bender opened the scoring from close range in the 16th minute, making sure Vedran Corluka’s goalward header crossed the line after Stefan Reinartz’s initial header hit the post.
The Leverkusen midfielder then coolly tucked the ball beyond Michael Rensing in the 51st.
Nuremberg stunned Werder Bremen in the late game when Alexander Esswein scored for the visitors to win 1-0 and move away from the relegation zone.
“Unfortunately we didn’t take our chances. Sometimes the ball doesn’t want to go in, and this season we’ve hit the post pretty often,” Bremen’s Claudio Pizarro said.
Nuremberg scored against the run of play in the 65th, when Jens Hegeler crossed for the unmarked Esswein to drill a shot to the far corner.
Coach Otto Rehhagel’s long-awaited return to the Bundesliga could not prevent Hertha Berlin slumping to their sixth successive defeat, their seventh in all competitions.
Augsburg beat the 73-year-old coach’s side 3-0 in his first game in charge to move above the visitors and leave Hertha in the relegation playoff place.
“Augsburg fought like lions,” Rehhagel said.
“Everyone has to understand that we’re in a relegation battle. It’s obvious that we can’t play like Barcelona.”
Elsewhere, Stuttgart beat bottom side Freiburg 4-1 in a local derby, Mainz routed Kaiserslautern 4-0 and Hoffenheim won 2-1 at Wolfsburg.
Rehhagel, who led Greece to the 2004 European Championship, was swarmed by photographers on his first Bundesliga appearance since 2000, but there was little the former Hertha Berlin player could do when Torsten Oehrl struck twice within three minutes for host Augsburg.