Mario Mandzukic and substitute Ashkan Dejagah scored two goals apiece as Wolfsburg beat Cologne 4-1 at home on Sunday, giving coach Felix Magath his first win in five games since returning to the 2009 Bundesliga champion.
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Mandzukic opened the scoring in the 14th minute and Dejagah helped create the Croat’s second goal in the 39th, five minutes after coming on for Cicero.
Lackluster defending allowed Dejagah to get Wolfsburg’s third goal in the 58th – after Sebastian Freis pulled one back for Cologne – and the 24-year-old Dejagah added a fourth with two minutes remaining.
It was Magath’s 450th Bundesliga game as a coach, one he described as a "huge relief. This was a badly needed result."
With three games remaining, Wolfsburg remains in the relegation playoff place – three points behind Cologne, which drops to 14th.
Nuremberg was held 0-0 at home by Mainz in the late game, with both sides battling for the last Europa League place.
Nuremberg was left fuming when Mainz goalkeeper Christian Wetklo handled the ball outside the penalty area with Robert Mak through on goal in injury time. Referee Manuel Graefe booked Mak for his protests.
"When you look at it again, it was clearly a red card (for Wetklo) and a free kick," said Nuremberg coach Dieter Hecking, whose side remains two points behind Mainz in fifth.
Mehmet Ekici – reportedly an off-season transfer target for Bayern Munich – hit the post with a Nuremberg free kick in the 20th.
Andre Schuerrle created the visitors’ first real chance for Christian Fuchs, who fired over in the 29th, and he conjured up the next for Elkin Soto minutes later, when the Colombian midfielder fired agonizingly wide.
Schuerrle displayed wonderful footwork to elude two defenders in the 70th but curled his shot to the left with all the hard work done, and neither side could strike a decisive blow.
Defeat in Wolfsburg stretched Cologne’s winless run away from home to nine. Frank Schaefer’s side has conceded 15 goals in its last three away games.
"The fact is we’re giving away too many simple goals away. It’s difficult to explain at the moment," Schaefer said. "We mustn’t lose our nerve. We still have everything in our own hands."
Freis hit the post in the second minute, but it was all Wolfsburg from then on, with Brazilian striker Grafite shooting narrowly wide before having a goal ruled out for offside.
Mandzukic’s opener was fully deserved. Diego beat the offside trap and crossed for the Croat to fire past Michael Rensing from close range.
Grafite blasted over and Mandzukic twice went close, before Christian Clemens forced Diego Benaglio to save in a rare Cologne attack in the 33rd.
Magath sent a sign to his players by bringing on Dejagah in the 34th minute, and the move proved inspired when the 24-year-old forward chased what looked a hopeless cause and set up Marcel Schaefer to cross for Mandzukic to head home Wolfsburg’s second.
It was the Croat’s fifth goal of the season, although Wolfsburg had never before won when he did score.
Freis pulled one back for the visitors less than two minutes later, when Benaglio was unable to hold onto his low shot.
An outstanding save by Rensing denied Mandzukic before the break, and he pulled off another from Jan Polak immediately after it.
Dejagah scored when Cologne lost the ball in midfield and Grafite pulled the ball back for the substitute to fire low past Rensing.
Mato Jajalo, Freis and Milivoje Novakovic all went close for the visitors – who clearly missed the suspended Lukas Podolski up front – with Wolfsburg content to sit back and counterattack.
Thoughts of an unlikely comeback were dashed when Dejagah scored his second, putting Mandzukic through and then meeting the return pass with a crisp finish.