Paderborn - Bayer 04 Leverkusen deepened SC Paderborn 07’s relegation fears with a 3-0 victory at the Benteler Arena that strengthens die Werkself’s own UEFA Champions League ambitions.

Paderborn striker Stefan Kutschke was guilty of missing two glorious opportunities to open the scoring in the second half, and the visitors took full advantage when Kyriakos Papadopoulos headed home Gonzalo Castro’s free-kick in the 73rd minute to give the visitors the lead. A late Heung-Min Son double added gloss to the scoreline as Leverkusen closed the gap on third-placed Gladbach to just two points.

Bellarabi goes close


As expected, Bayer 04 head coach Roger Schmidt reshuffled his pack following his side’s extra-time victory over 1. FC Kaiserslautern in the DFB Cup on Tuesday evening. The 47-year-old made five chances in total, recalling Wendell, Roberto Hilbert, Stefan Reinartz, Heung-Min Son and Stefan Kießling to the Leverkusen starting line-up at the Benteler Arena.

One of the players to retain his place in the team, Karim Bellarabi, nearly opened the scoring inside the first minute when he let fly from the edge of the area, but Paderborn centre-back Christian Strohdiek managed to clear the 24-year-old’s goal-bound effort off the line. The hosts quickly settled after that early scare, though, and almost forced an opening of their own when Kutschke - playing as a lone striker - steered a corner just wide of the target.

Kutschke denied


Despite the lack of goalscoring opportunities in the remainder of the first half, the match continued to swing from end to end and moments after Florian Hartherz had denied Bellarabi with an inch-perfect tackle inside the penalty area, Leverkusen custodian Bernd Leno was forced to make a smart save from Alban Meha’s sweetly-struck free-kick.

The visitors started to exert more pressure on the East Westphalian minnows after the restart, but the home side could and perhaps should have taken the lead against the run of play when Kutschke - left in acres of space inside the Leverkusen penalty area - failed to make a proper connection with Moritz Stoppelkamp’s left-wing cross.

Son at the double


The rangy striker, who made six appearances for VfL Wolfsburg during the 2013/14 campaign, was in the thick of the action yet again just moments later. After a marauding run from Süleyman Koc was halted by the retreating Leverkusen defence, the ball eventually fell to the unmarked Kutschke inside the box, but the 26-year-old failed to get his shot away in time and Leno was able to smother the danger.

Andre Breitenreiter’s charges paid dearly for their profligacy 17 minutes from time. Castro floated in a teasing free-kick, and substitute Papadopoulos rose highest to guide a looping header into the right-hand corner of Lukas Kruse’s net. Son applied the finishing touches to a hard-fought victory with a well-taken brace that takes his personal tally to ten for the campaign and helps Leverkusen back into fourth place, while Paderborn remain in deep trouble in the relegation play-off place.

Line-ups and statistics

Matthew Howarth

Take a look at Stefan Kießling's thundering shot that knocked out Paderborn keeper Lukas Kruse on the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: