Goalkeeper Michael Rensing was in superb form for Koeln, but Robert Lewandowski's lone goal was enough for Dortmund to take three points.
At the end of a rousing first half, the hosts took a deserved lead through Robert Lewandowski, who shook himself free of the slack-footed Kevin Pezzoni before netting a brilliant finish in the lower-right corner of goal.
Lewandowski's goal was a long time coming for Dortmund, who dominated the first half and ought to have scored earlier. Rensing made a superb effort to deny a Neven Subotic pile-driver (11'), as well as a header from Felipe Santana (31') who started ahead of the injured Mats Hummels. Lucas Barrios had a shot cleared off the goal line (18'), and Lewandowski narrowly headed over from a corner (32') before his goal.
Koeln were comprehensively overrun in midfield but finally managed to have a couple chances after the half-time break. Milivoje Novakovic (50') was rather fortuitously set up after a Subotic clearance was blocked, but the Slovenian striker had his effort blocked as well. Six minutes later, Mato Jajalo played Novakovic through on goal, but the veteran striker fired wide with only Roman Weidenfeller to beat.
Dortmund continued to create chance after chance, but a combination of the brilliant Rensing, poor luck and lackadaisical finishing kept their advantage at just one goal until the very end. Rensing made world class saves from Kevin Grosskreutz (51'), Subotic (57'), Santana (71'), and Lewandowski (74'). Barrios ought to have put the game to rest on 79 minutes but struck the bar, and the ever-influential Nuri Sahin also rattled the woodwork with a typical curling effort from distance.
Due to their hosts' poor finishing, Koeln had every chance to steal a late point, but lacked venom in the final third. Captain and top attacking threat Lukas Podolski was forced off with an ankle injury early in the second half, and his absence was felt. Dortmund dominated possession in the latter stages of the match, giving the Geissboecke no chance to turn around their fortunes.
The result of tonight's match sees Dortmund temporarily move 15 points ahead of Leverkusen in first place. Following their second loss of the 2011 calendar year, Koeln remain 11th.
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