BERLIN, Feb 20, 2011 (AFP) - Bayer Leverkusen went second in the Bundesliga table on Sunday with a 4-2 win at home to strugglers VfB Stuttgart that dropped their guests further into the relegation battle.
With bottom side Moenchengladbach beating Schalke on Sunday evening, only five points now separate the bottom five clubs and Stuttgart, the 2007 German champions, are level on 19 points with 'Gladbach at the foot of the table.
Stuttgart fought in vain as they came from behind twice before Leverkusen's Stefan Reinartz headed the winning goal on 81 minutes then Stefan Kiessling netted his second of the game in added time.
The win leaves Leverkusen 10 points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund and knocks defending champions Bayern Munich down to third in the table.
"After playing in the ice cold weather in Kharkiv, we had problems to find our game again," said Leverkusen coach Jupp Heynckes after his side's 4-0 midweek win over Ukraine side Metalist Kharkiv in the Europa League.
"It was crucial that we could use our bench, that is the difference from last year, I have alternatives if they are needed."
Ex-Germany captain Michael Ballack came off the bench for Leverkusen with 25 minutes remaining as he works his way back to fitness from a knee injury.
Having drawn 1-1 with Valencia in Spain in the last 16 of the Champions League in mid-week, Schalke were brought crashing back to earth at bottom side Moenchengladbach, who inflicted a 2-1 win.
This was only 'Gladbach's fifth win of the season and leaves just five points separating the bottom five teams.
On Saturday, Bayern enjoyed a 3-1 win at Mainz, while Dortmund had a 2-0 home win over St Pauli.
Germany striker Mario Gomez, the league's top scorer, completed Bayern's rout with his 18th goal in 21 league games after midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Mueller had put Bayern in control.
Mainz's Tunisia striker Sami Allagui scored a late consolation goal for the hosts, but Bayern held on to warm up for Wednesday's Champions League last 16 game at holders Inter Milan with a win.
Dortmund stay on course for their first league title since 2002 with a home win over Hamburg-based St Pauli.
Hanover are fourth in the table after a 3-0 win over Kaiserslautern, with former Germany striker Jan Schlaudraff netting twice.
Hamburg coach Armin Veh left Dutch hot-shot Ruud van Nistelrooy on the bench for his side's 4-0 win over Werder Bremen on Saturday.
Freiburg's Senegal striker Papiss Demba Cisse netted his 16th goal in 21 league games this season with a superb strike as he held off several defenders before stabbing the ball home on 70 minutes to seal a 2-1 win over Wolfsburg.
The defeat leaves Wolfsburg just above a relegation place as they lost again after sacking ex-England coach Steve McClaren a fortnight ago.
Cologne continue to pick up points and showed their fighting spirit with a 1-1 draw against Hoffenheim.
Nuremberg are up to eighth in the Bundesliga after their impressive 3-0 victory, their fourth straight win, against Eintracht Frankfurt on Friday night.