On a wet afternoon on the Rhine, Rovers emerged from the first leg still very much in the tie courtesy of away goals from David Bentley and Shabani Nonda.
Rovers kicked off and immediately exposed one of Leverkusen`s weaknesses. David Bentley found time and space on the right to whip a vicious ball across the six yard box, perfectly placed for the charging Jason Roberts. However, with the goal at his mercy the UEFA Cup debutant allowed the ball to zip off the surface and between his legs to relative safety.
That served as a warning to Leverkusen of things to come and although they settled after that it was Rovers on the attack again. On 13 minutes Bentley was once again given too much space and time to pinpoint his cross. This time the target was the head of McCarthy at the near post, however, his thumping header flew harmlessly off target.
Rovers continued to press and McCarthy forced a fine save from Hans Jorg-Butt.
Leverkusen had offered little more than a deflected free-kick but in keeping with these sorts of games, Rovers were punished when Leverkusen were headed in front by Jan Ingwer Callsen Bracker. The centre back evaded McCarthy to arrive at the back post to deftly nod home Schneider`s free-kick.
Andrie Voronin had an excellent chance to double the lead when well placed following a sweeping move but he lashed his effort recklessly wide.
Rovers then hit back and deservedly equalised following a rasping free-kick from distance by the exceptional Bentley. The ball took a small deflection on the way in but it was hit with such ferocity the ‘keeper would have struggled to reach it.
Rovers were pegged back again when Carston Ramelow drilled a speculative effort towards goal that took a horrible deflection off Ryan Nelsen, ultimately sending the ball into the opposite corner.
Leverkusen ushered the half out using great ball retention. The fluid movement of the front four had made it very difficult for Rovers to keep up.
In similar fashion to the first half, Rovers should have scored in the opening 90 seconds, this time David Dunn being the guilty party. Smart work from Roberts presented Dunn with a free header six yards out at the back post but his diving attempt squirmed narrowly wide of the post.
Then came the sucker-punch blow in the 55th minute. Gonzalo Castro robbed a hesitant Stephen Warnock and drilled a ball across the area. The experienced touch of Bernd Schneider deftly diverted the ball into the back of the net off the post. The ball had rolled along the line, agonizingly for the defence, before tricking in.
Rovers looked deflated and short of ideas all of a sudden as the boggy pitch and lashings of rain made life very difficult for a side obviously lacking in fitness. David Dunn epitomised how the players looked when he huffed and puffed his way off the pitch in the 65th minute to be replaced by the young German, Sergio Peter.
Leverkusen continued to dominate and stretch Rovers through the flexibility of their four attackers. Holes kept appearing in Rovers` defence allowing a number of efforts on Brad Friedel`s goal.
As the minutes whittled away as did Rovers` chances in this competition. However, there is a new hero at Ewood tonight, well in Germany, and that is Shabani Nonda.
He replaced a weary and sluggish Roberts in the 69th minute and beautifully hauled Rovers back into this tie with a sweet volley in the 86th minute.
David Bentley`s drilled ball into the box wasn`t dealt with and the ball fell to Nonda who connected crisply with the ball to send it crashing into the back of the net via the underneath of the crossbar.
It was a goal Rovers deserved and will give them renewed vigour for the second.
Left totally exposed on all of the goals and made a couple of other smart stops.
Plenty of effort again but with little distribution. Some sound defending.
Looked decidedly average tonight. Not one of his better games.
Too slow and far too casual at times.
Hugely unlucky with the deflection but failed to command his troops.
Quiet second period but still provides a huge threat to opposition defences. His first half display was brilliant.
Huffed and puffed, literally, does look short on fitness but his positioning and movement was good at times.
Could not influence the game at all and was over-shadowed by another veteran schemer, Schneider.
Just doesn’t compensate for Sav. Horrendous passing too.
Put himself about but couldn’t influence the game much.
Should really have scored in the opening minute and looked off the pace.
Another very lively display.
A cracking finish for the goal.
Only played two minutes.