Bayern Munich's closest challengers for the Bundesliga title made hard work of their first weekend of action after the winter break. Werder Bremen scraped a win while Hamburg lost to lowly Nuremberg.
Even the introduction of robust new signing Ailton couldn't save Hamburg from defeat
SV Hamburg saw their title hopes go up in smoke as struggling FC Nuremberg came from behind to win 2-1 on Saturday and leave Thomas Doll's team nine points behind leaders Bayern Munich.
The six-week winter break failed to knock Bayern out of their stride as they won 3-1 over Borussia Mönchengladbach on Friday, but Hamburg failed to respond and fell to third after Werder Bremen defeated Arminia Bielefeld 1-0 on Sunday.
"It was an unnecessary defeat and we are all annoyed," fumed Doll. "We had something like 55 percent of the ball in the first half but just assumed things would continue that way."
Doll handed debuts to Dutch international Nigel de Jong and on-loan Brazilian striker Ailton but Japanese international Naohiro Takahara was the main threat in the early stages.
But it was a Nuremberg player Andreas Wolf who gave Hamburg the lead putting through his own net on 67 minutes.
League's meanest defense exposed twice in six minutes
Hamburg had the meanest defense in the league, conceding just nine goals all season, so it came as a major shock when they conceded twice in six minutes. Ivan Saenko equalized almost straight from the restart and Stefan Kiessling stole the points with a 73rd minute winner.
Bremen, humiliated by regional side FC St Pauli in their midweek cup defeat, are now the nearest team to Bayern with their 1-0 triumph over Bielefeld taking them eight points behind the pacesetters.
Bremen left their scoring boots at home but still got a head past Bielefeld.
"We were far from brilliant but effective," concluded Bremen manager Thomas Schaaf. "It is not important that we are second the only thing important is being successful."
Bremen put their cup nightmare behind them to leapfrog SV Hamburg into second. Confidence was low after the 3-1 midweek cup humiliation but Bremen bounced back with Frank Fahrenhorst's goal nabbing the points.
It could all have been so different had Bielefeld striker David Kobylik not struck his 24th minute penalty against the top of the crossbar.
Clinical Bremen short of ammunition after winter break
Bremen, the top-scorers in the Bundesliga, looked toothless without injured German international striker Miroslav Klose and they needed a moment of inspiration to break the deadlock.
Frenchman Johan Micoud's well-struck free-kick rattled the crossbar in the 72nd minute and Fahrenhorst was on hand to scuff the ball in for his first goal of the season.
Fourth-placed Schalke 04, with new manager Mirko Slomka taking charge of his first match, kept within five points of Bremen courtesy of a 2-0 triumph over bottom side Kaiserslautern.
Goals from Brazilian Lincoln and a 78th minute Levan Kobiaschvili penalty condemned Kaiserslautern to their 12th defeat of the season as they continue to prop up the table.
Business as usual as Bayern and Makaay hit stride
A typical Roy Makaay celebration and an ominous sign for Bayern's rivals.
At the other end of the table it looks increasingly like no-one can catch Bayern Munich who swatted aside Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-1 on Friday to pick up their 15th win in 18 Bundesliga outings.
Bayern had not won at Gladbach, one of their bogey teams, since 1998 and failed to find the net in seven barren years.
However Dutch international Roy Makaay ended the wait after just 13 minutes taking advantage of a kind deflection to slot calmly past US international goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
Bayern pushed on and doubled their lead in the 55th minute with German international captain Michael Ballack producing a trademark free-kick.
Gladbach scored straight from the restart through Belgian international forward Wesley Sonck but it was Makaay's night. In the 69th minute he showed great technique to unleash a sublime first-time volley that left Keller's net bulging.
"I had a good feeling before the game and felt I would score," said Makaay. "My confidence was high after the first goal and I think you could see that from the way I took the third goal."
Mixed fortunes for new coaches
Klaus Augenthaler thought things may be better away from Leverkusen. He was wrong.
Elsewhere new VfL Wolfsburg manager Klaus Augenthaler tasted defeat in his first match in charge with Borussia Dortmund running out 3-2 winners.
Jürgen Kohler, like Augenthaler a 1990 World Cup winner with West Germany, was also making his managerial debut at MSV Duisburg and fared better with a vital 1-0 win at VfB Stuttgart. "We had a lot of luck as Stuttgart created a lot of chances in the first half," said Kohler. "But we showed a willingness to fight and work hard for one another. That is a good omen for the rest of the season."
Stuttgart old boy Marco Caligiuri scored the decisive goal in the 43rd minute although promoted Duisburg remain in the bottom three due to Nuremberg's shock win at Hamburg.