A stoppage-time goal by striker Mario Gomez gave hosts VfB Stuttgart a 1-0 win against Hamburg on Sunday and boosted their hopes of a European spot.
The defeat left Hamburg in third place, level on 51 points with second-placed Bayern Munich. Stuttgart moved to within a point of fourth-placed Hertha Berlin, who are on 49 points.
The top two teams qualify for the Champions League, the third plays Champions League qualifiers, while the fourth and fifth-placed teams qualify for what next year will be known as the Europa League.
VfL Wolfsburg top the standings with 54 points.
Stuttgart were the more aggressive side and deserved the win, while Hamburg looked tired after their midweek 3-1 win against Manchester City in the UEFA Cup.
“I had already settled for a 0-0,” Stuttgart coach Markus Babbel said. “But the boys wanted the win. We continuously tried to create chances and at the end we were rewarded.”
The hosts twice demanded a penalty for what they said were a handball and a foul on Timo Gebhart and television replays showed Hamburg were lucky to get away with both.
While Stuttgart repeatedly threatened through Thomas Hitzlsperger, Ciprian Marica and Gomez, Hamburg largely depended on quick counterattacks targeting striker Ivica Olic.
Olic came close twice just before the break, with the Croatian first chasing a long ball down the left and firing wide, and then hitting the crossbar with a curled shot.
The hosts were again more willing to attack in the second half, coming close with shots from substitute Julian Schieber, Gomez and Hitzlsperger.
Hamburg almost grabbed the win in the 90th minute when Dennis Aogo hit the bar with a thundering drive from 16m.
But it was Stuttgart who grabbed all three points when Gomez pounced on a loose ball in the box after Hamburg keeper Frank Rost saved a Hitzlsperger low drive, to drill the ball home deep in stoppage time for his 15th league goal of the season.
“If you cannot get three points from a match you should at least get one,” Hamburg coach Martin Jol said.
“But it is extremely bitter not to have any after this match. For 90 minutes I was satisfied with the performance of my team,” he said.
In the day’s only other match, Bayer Leverkusen lost ground in their bid to claim a European spot when they drew 1-1 with Werder Bremen. They are in ninth place on 42 points.