Miralem Pjanic earned Roma a crucial 3-2 win over 10-man Bayer Leverkusen in Wednesday’s Champions League encounter at the Stadio Olimpico by converting a penalty with 10 minutes to go.
Having led 2-0 at the break through Mohamed Salah and Edin Dzeko, Roma were pegged back early in the second half by quickfire strikes from Admir Mehmedi and Javier Hernandez.
But as the matched headed towards a draw which would have done little for Roma’s hopes of progressing from Group E, an almighty goalmouth scramble led to Omer Toprak shoving Salah as the Egyptian prepared to score.
Toprak was shown a straight red card, and Pjanic kept his cool to convert the penalty and provide Roma’s qualification hopes with a huge boost.
The win sees Roma climb to second spot in the group with five points from four games, one point ahead of Leverkusen.
Rudi Garcia’s side face the daunting task of heading to reigning champions Barcelona on matchday five, while Leverkusen travel to bottom club BATE.
Roma started the match brilliantly and needed only two minutes to open the scoring after a quick counter-attack. Dzeko set up Salah with a fine pass and the Egypt international squeezed the ball underneath Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Hernandez should have levelled the scoring in the 14th minute when he beat the offside trap after a free-kick from Hakan Calhanoglu, yet the former Manchester United man failed to properly get his foot to the ball and tapped it wide from close range.
Dzeko doubled the Serie A side’s lead in the 29th minute after some fine work from Radja Nainggolan. The Belgium international lost his marker in midfield before setting up the ex-Manchester City striker with a fine pass and Dzeko found the net with a calm finish.
Dzeko should have effectively put the match to bed 60 seconds later when Salah set him up, but he blazed over from 10 yards.
Hernandez again looked dangerous for the visitors five minutes before the interval when he beat his marker to a Giulio Donati cross, but Wojciech Szczesny comfortably collected his acrobatic attempt.
Leverkusen pulled one back early in the first minute of the second half, though, when Mehmedi curled home after being teed up Kevin Kampl.
The Bundesliga outfit did not stop there and restored parity in the 51st minute. Karim Bellarabi found Hernandez inside the area and the Mexican striker beat Szczesny with a right-footed shot in the far corner.
Leverkusen continued to dominate proceedings and nearly grabbed the lead on the hour-mark via Mehmedi, only for the Roma goalkeeper to deny the attacker with a fine save.
Roma felt they should have been awarded a penalty when Dzeko went to the ground inside the area in the 63rd minute, yet referee Sergei Karasev waved play on.
However, the official had no other option but to give Garcia’s men a spot-kick when Toprak fouled Salah on the goalline and Pjanic stepped up to shoot underneath Leno and gift Roma the full three points.