Bayer Leverkusen 3 Blackburn Rovers 2: Nonda's late strike gives hope to Rovers

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The Independent Online

Shabani Nonda threw Blackburn Rovers a lifeline when he scored four minutes from time to cut into Bayer Leverkusen's advantage in their Uefa Cup last 32 first leg tie last night.

Nonda, on for Jason Roberts, cracked home a shot via the underside of the bar for a potentially vital goal that will ensure Rovers progress on away goals with a 1-0 win in the return at Ewood Park next Thursday.

The Rovers manager, Mark Hughes, said: "It was a very important goal from Nonda and very welcome. At 3-1 it would have been a very difficult situation for us.

"I have to compliment my players for their performance," he added. "While we created some good opportunities in the first half, we lacked a physical presence as the game progressed.

"Conditions were difficult as well and that did not help us. We were not able to affect the game and dictate the pace of it as we would have wanted.

"In this situation we would have liked to have closed the opposition down," Hughes admitted. "But that proved difficult for us but we made the best of it as far as I am concerned."

Blackburn could have taken the lead in the first minute when David Bentley whipped in a cross from the right. However, the ball skidded away from Roberts on the wet surface and the chance was lost. With the rain teeming down at the BayArena conditions were difficult for both sides.

However, after a good spell of pressure from Blackburn, they fell behind in the 18th minute, Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker ghosting in at the far post to head home following a free-kick from Bernd Schneider.

Leverkusen, lying seventh in the Bundesliga, were playing with a degree of confidence. Blackburn, however, carved out a good chance in the 31st minute when Benni McCarthy got into a good position, but he saw his effort blocked by Leverkusen goalkeeper Hans-Jorg Butt.

The visitors equalised in the 38th minute when Stephen Warnock played a short free-kick to Bentley 25 yards out. He rattled in a powerful shot that took a deflection off Carsten Ramelow to leave Butt stranded.

Yet Rovers' parity was short-lived. Leverkusen regained the lead in the 43rd minute when Ramelow's effort came off the chest of Ryan Nelsen with goalkeeper Brad Friedel out of position.

Early in the second half David Dunn squandered a good chance when he sent a header wide, following a cross from Roberts. Leverkusen went 3-1 ahead in the 56th minute when a clever back-heel from Schneider went beyond Friedel after Gonzalo Castro had played him in.

Gaps at the back were now appearing for Rovers and Stefan Kiessling could have extended Leverkusen's lead in the 59th minute but failed to test Friedel.

Blackburn almost conceded a fourth goal in the 80th minute, but Friedel blocked Kiessling's effort from close range, and with four minutes to go Nonda changed the complexion of the tie when the substitute scored via the bar.

Bayer Leverkusen (4-4-2): Butt; Haggui, Callsen-Bracker, Rolfes, Castro; Schneider, Barbarez, Ramelow, Babic; Voronin, Kiessling (Freier, 85). Substitutes not used: Fernandez (gk), Stenman, Barnetta, Freier, Athirson, Papadopulos, Camdali.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel; Emerton, Henchoz, Nelsen, Warnock; Bentley, Tugay, Mokoena (Todd, 89), Dunn (Peter, 65); Roberts (Nonda, 69), McCarthy. Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Khizanishvili, Todd, Jeffers, Gallagher.

Referee: P Vink (Netherlands).

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