Borussia Monchengladbach gave their hopes of playing in the Champions League next season a timely boost with a 1-0 win at Schalke, whose own place in Europe’s elite club competition is far from secure.
Patrick Herrmann scored the only goal of the game 10 minutes before half time to earn Lucien Favre’s men all three points and take them to within six points of their opponents with two games of the season left.
It also leaves them with just three points to make up on fourth-placed Bayer Leverkusen with two rounds of matches remaining in the Bundesliga this season.
Gladbach have forged a reputation for their swift and successful counter-attacking football under Favre and this was no exception.
After spending most of the game defending, absorbing the pressure, they broke out to test Ralf Fahrmann first through Herrmann in the 14th minute, but the Schalke goalkeeper saved well.
The Royal Blues continued to dictate the tempo of the game, yet in doing so, they were playing right into Gladbach’s hands. Ten minutes before the break, the Foals cantered forwards once again to earn a corner, from which Schalke failed to clear their lines.
Gladbach’s most prolonged spell of pressure led to Raffael pulling the ball across for Herrmann to arrow past Fahrmann, who could do nothing as the ball flashed past him into the back of the net.
The second half followed the same trend with Gladbach just waiting for their chances to break, and continuing to pose the greater threat.
Max Kruse should have doubled their lead, but after rounding Fahrmann, he only found the side-netting.
Gladbach gained more and more of the ball and Juan Arango nearly scored on the hour mark before Schalke coach Jens Keller responded by sending on Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
That move prompted Gladbach to retreat once again and try to preserve their lead, although that was easier said than done.
The Dutchman had an immediate impact on the game and it was his cross which was met at the near post by Adam Szalai, but his shot struck the outside of the left-hand upright.
There was no way through for the Royal Blues, who in losing ensured local rivals Dortmund will finish second while leaving Leverkusen within three points of a place in the Champions League group stage rather than the play-offs, with a thrilling finale to the season in store.