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Hoffenheim Return to Top as Dark Horses Continue to Surprise

TSG Hoffenheim showed no sign of stage fright in their new home as they returned to the top of the Bundesliga thanks to a 2-0 victory over lowly Energie Cottbus on Saturday.

Hoffenheim players celebrate the 2-0 win over Cottbus

The dream continues for Hoffenheim who head back to the top of the league

Demba Ba and loan hiring Boubacar Sanogo were on target in the Rhein-Necker stadium after Hoffenheim played their home games in the first half of the season in nearby Mannheim.

Hoffenheim did not slip up in their new environment on a return to league action after the seven-week winter break despite having league top scorer Vedad Ibisevic out injured for the rest of the season, Chinedu Obasi also sidelined and Carlos Eduardo suspended.

"It was very important to win the first game in the new stadium and to have a successful start into the second half of the season," said captain Selim Teber.

The win sees Hoffenheim move two points clear of Hertha Berlin and SV Hamburg, who 24 hours at the top as Mladen Petric's header the previous night ensured a 1-0 win over champions Bayern Munich in the official league restart.

"Maybe we thought after the good game (Tuesday's 5-1 cup triumph at VfB Stuttgart) that we would only require a half-hearted effort. But you can't afford that against any team, and definitely not against Hamburg," said Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

Hoffenheim ahead by a nose

Hoffenheim top the table with 38 points, Hertha Berlin and Hamburg have 36 each and Munich are now fourth on 35. Hertha defeated Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 on Saturday.

Hoffenheim were in command against drop-zone club Cottbus from the start and Ba slotted home the 1-0 lead in the 28th as two defenders failed to clear his original header.

The Werder Bremen import Sanogo wasted a first chance in the 36th but did better in the 63rd with a short-range volley for 2-0 as Cottbus protested in vain that he had pushed a defender before scoring.

Hoffenheim goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand, who returned to Germany in the winter break after being released by Valencia, suffered a thigh injury and had to be replaced by Daniel Haas during the second half.

Hertha remained close to the top courtesy of a double from controversial forward Marko Pantelic in snowy conditions.

Marco Pantelic scores against Frankfurt

Pantelic continues his fine form to keep Herta in the race

The Serbian poked home in a goalmouth scramble in the 17th minute and got his second in the 51st. Hertha's Cicero had a penalty saved by goalkeeper Markus Proell with Frankfurt's consolation goal from Benjamin Koehler in the 53rd.

Schalke 04's ambition to overcome a poor first half of the season ended in defeat, 1-0 at Hanover 96 from Sergio Pinto's blast eight minutes into the game. Schalke wasted a host of first-rate chances as they trail Hoffenheim by 11 points in mid-table.

Fifth-placed Bayer Leverkusen, who on Saturday hired Bayern Munich teenager Toni Kroos on loan, drew 1-1 at Borussia Dortmund. Cologne and VfL Wolfsburg also drew 1-1 while Stuttgart regrouped from Tuesday's disaster to beat bottom club Borussia Moenchengladbach 2-0.

The Sunday games are Werder Bremen vs. Arminia Bielefeld and VfL Bochum vs. SC Karlsruhe.

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