Hoffenheim manager Markus Babbel made just one change to the side that began the 0-0 draw against SC Freiburg on matchday 31. Roberto Firmino, whose season was ended prematurely by an ankle injury, was replaced in the starting eleven by Dutch striker Ryan Babel. Sven Schipplock continued to lead the line up front.
Bayer playing it safe
Leverkusen have employed a somewhat more cautious style since new manager Sami Hyypiä took over two weeks ago, with more emphasis on defensive rigidity and counter-attacking football. And they frustrated Hoffenheim for long periods of the first half. Salihovic fired a free-kick over the bar from all of 30 yards after three minutes, while Boris Vukcevic was denied by a crucial tackle from Manuel Friedrich 20 minutes later, as the home side struggled to create any meaningful chances.
Bayer were happy to sit back, soak up pressure and then hit their hosts on the break. Schürrle skewed a drive wide on 20 minutes after a good one-two with Stefan Kießling, but the Hoffenheim defence stayed solid otherwise. Andreas Beck had the last effort of a decent first half for the Sinsheim outfit when he cut inside on his left foot and shot narrowly off target.
Hoffenheim turn the screw
With no changes to either team at the interval, the players emerged for the second half. It was the home side that came out quickest out of the blocks, with Beck almost finding Schipplock with a dangerous cross and Tobias Weis being denied what looked like a penalty after a trip from Mehmet Toprak (49', 50'). Vukcevic then had a pot-shot deflected clear by the legs of Leverkusen keeper Leno, as TSG stepped up the pressure.
The deadlock was almost broken by TSG on 54 minutes. Michal Kadlec miscued a clearance straight up into the air, which Babel reached before the onrushing Leno. It was a fantastic leap from the striker, but his header went wide of goal from six yards and Leverkusen could breathe again.
Motivated by possible qualification for Europe for the first time in their history, 1899 continued to probe for the elusive opener. Vukcevic was having an excellent game on the wing, constantly beating his man and producing some quality deliveries. Salihovic didn't anticipate a slip from a Bayer defender and was unable to get on the end of one teasing cross, before Leno had to be alert to gather another (71', 78').
Schürrle shocks 1899
Then, out of nothing, Leverkusen stunned the WIRSOL Rhein-Neckar-Arena with a goal. Schürrle was allowed to dribble inside from the left wing and he unleashed a curling effort, which beat Tom Starke and nestled in the corner (79'). It was goal completely against the run of play.
In the final few minutes, the home side threw everything at their opponents and missed a golden chance to equalise with six minutes remaining. After denying Hoffenheim a penalty earlier on in the game, referee Felix Brych this time had no hesitation in pointing to the spot after Vedran Corluka handled in the area. But Salihovic was unable to convert, as Leno sprang to his left to keep out the Bosnian's spot-kick (84').
Leverkusen managed to hold out for an unlikely and undeserved win and have now opened up a seven-point gap on TSG. The Europa League is still possible for Hoffenheim but they cannot afford any more defeats. They next face 1. FC Nürnberg at home, before finishing their league campaign with a trip to the capital to face Hertha BSC Berlin.