Borussia Moenchengladbach outclassed Cologne to win the Rhine derby 3-0 and leave the visitors mired in the Bundesliga’s relegation zone on Sunday.
The return of Frank Schaefer as interim coach in place of Stale Solbakken, who was sacked on Thursday, failed to prevent Cologne slumping to their 18th defeat of the season.
Juan Arango fired Borussia ahead with a precise free-kick in the 19th minute, Tony Jantschke made it 2-0 in the 53rd and Marco Reus completed the scoring two minutes later.
Moenchengladbach moved to within a point of third-placed Schalke 04 in the automatic Champions League spot.
“Everything is possible, but we’re still only thinking from game to game,” Borussia coach Lucien Favre said.
Cologne are four points from safety in the playoff place, one ahead of Hertha BSC Berlin with three matches remaining.
“Our only target left now is to defend this place,” Cologne goalkeeper Michael Rensing said.
SC Freiburg later extended their unbeaten run to eight games after drawing 0-0 with TSG 1899 Hoffenheim to move seven points above Cologne.
Hoffenheim goalkeeper Tom Starke denied Daniel Caligiuri shortly before the Freiburg midfielder hit the post in the 73rd minute.
Former Freiburg player Daniel Williams came closest to scoring for the visitors when he hit the side-netting late in the game.
“I’m happy with the point,” Caligiuri said. “Cologne messed up and every point is important.”
Rensing’s flying save denied a fantastic volley from Mike Hanke in the third minute of the 80th Rhine derby, but there was little he could do to stop Arango’s free-kick from a central position going over the wall and inside the right post.
Rensing was alert to tip Reus’ effort over the bar shortly afterwards and he denied Hanke in the 40th minute after Reus had pressured Henrique Sereno into giving the ball away.
The visitors came closest after the break, when Lukas Podolski and Milivoje Novakovic had shots blocked.
Jantschke scored his first goal for Moenchengladbach since December 2008 when he met Reus’ free-kick with a glancing header.
Reus then scored again. Surrounded by defenders, the Germany international played the ball through the legs of Pedro Geromel and Sereno, before slotting it beyond Rensing for his 16th goal of the season.
Rensing prevented Arango from making it 4-0 in the 70th minute and then produced a fantastic reflex save to block Roel Brouwers’ header shortly afterwards.