Berlin – Bayer 04 Leverkusen maintained their assault on the top of the standings with a clinically-achieved 1-0 victory at Hertha Berlin on Saturday afternoon.
Game over for Sam
Stefan Kießling's 28th-minute strike against the run of play was enough to separate the sides at the end of an intensely contested game of few chances at the capital's Olympiastadion. The result hoisted Sami Hyypiä's side above Borussia Dortmund and to within a point of league leaders FC Bayern München ahead of the early evening showdown between the top two in the Ruhr district.
There was a setback for the visitors with the game barely underway, seven-goal midfielder Sidney Sam having to take his leave of the action inside four minutes after sustaining a knock on the thigh, with Jens Hegeler coming on his stead. Hertha edged the fairly cagey ensuing exchanges as Leverkusen adjusted to the change in personnel, but they had to wait until the 17th minute for their first sniff of goal, a shot on the turn from Sami Allagui blocked inside the box.
With the half-hour mark approaching and Bayer clearly struggling for fluency against their hard-running, hard-tackling opponents, the Werkself demonstrated at a stroke why they are right in the title mix alongside FC Bayern and Dortmund. A swift breakaway instigated by Emre Can and Gonzalo Castro ended with early sub Hegeler freeing up Kießling on the right, allowing last season's top scorer to slot the ball past home custodian Thomas Kraft with icy aplomb.
Bayer hang hard
Having gone in front against the run of play, Leverkusen belatedly settled into their stride and starting stroking the ball around to better effect. Scoring chances remained at a premium at either end however until, with the interval fast approaching, Kießling teed up Hegeler's far-post cross perfectly for an unmarked Gonzalo Castro, who could only send his header wide of the post from a few metres out.
Hertha threatened to make the guests rue that golden opportunity as they made a forceful start to the second half but, as in the first, the full-blooded contest was providing little in the way of genuine goalmouth incident.
That all changed 20 minutes in when Tolga Cigerci met Peter Pekarik's cross with a header that pulled a great flying save out of Leverkusen keeper Bernd Leno.
Leverkusen stand strong
There was no questioning the home side's commitment or effort in pursuit of the leveller, but with Ronny and Sandro Wagner both wasting late chances, Bayer's backline bulwark held firm against the onslaught as the clock ticked down.
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