BERLIN: Struggling Brazilian striker Raffael scored his first goal of the season to inspire Borussia Moenchengladbach to a 3-0 victory over Stuttgart and knock Bayern Munich off second place in the Bundesliga.
Raffael came off the bench to break the deadlock in a hard-fought game and help lift Gladbach into second, two points ahead of champions Bayern.
Against a resilient Stuttgart defence, chances were few and far between for Gladbach in the first half, but coach Dieter Hecking's personnel changes paid off after the break.
Substituted on for Alassane Plea, Raffael missed a gilt-edged opportunity on 68 minutes, slicing a volley wide from point-blank range.
The Brazilian made up for it moments later, however, nodding in fellow substitute Florian Neuhaus' cross to break his Bundesliga duck this season.
Neuhaus added a second himself on 77 minutes, sweeping the ball into the bottom corner from ten metres.
Stuttgart's day then went from bad to disastrous as Erik Thommy was sent off for a second yellow card and, moments later, Benjamin Pavard turned the ball into his own net to make it 3-0.
"We saw today that we have players who can come off the bench and decide games," said Hecking, who dismissed suggestions that his team were in the title race.
"At the moment, Borussia Dortmund are a long way ahead. If we are two points behind them with two games to go, then you can call us title candidates," he said.
In Sunday's earlier game, relegation-threatened Hanover were left fuming after a controversial penalty decision allowed Daniel Brosinski to rescue a dramatic 1-1 draw for Mainz.
Visitors Hanover accused Mainz striker Jean-Philippe Mateta of diving to win the penalty, and were furious that the video assistant failed to intervene on their behalf.
"It was clearly the wrong decision," Hanover's Matthias Ostrzolek told Sky. "Mateta told us himself that he had dived. I said that if he was a real man he would go to the referee and own up."
The second of two hotly disputed penalty decisions in the game, Brosinski's late equaliser left Hanover second from bottom in the Bundesliga table, and doomed them to a 20th consecutive away game without a win.
Having taken an early lead through Hendrik Weydandt, Hanover breathed a sigh of relief when Robert Hartmann waved away Mainz's appeals for a penalty after the ball struck Kevin Wimmer's hand.
Hartmann was forced to suspend the game for several minutes early in the second half as flares in the away block filled the stadium with smoke.
Tempers then flared in the 83rd minute as Hanover protested the controversial penalty decision, before Brosinski coolly slotted in the equaliser.
Anthony Ujah appeared to have won the game for Mainz with a header in added time, but his celebrations were cut short as the goal was ruled out for offside. A second yellow card for Oliver Sorg, though, put the final flourish on a bitter afternoon for Hanover.
German Bundesliga results:
Mainz 1 Hanover 1
Borussia Moenchengladbach 3 Stuttgart 0