A second-half comeback from Bayer Leverkusen ended any hopes of Schalke picking up an important three points in their quest to finish in the top four and qualify for next season's Champions League.
Schalke 2-3 Bayer Leverkusen
(Choupo-Moting 14', Sane 29' – Brandt 54', Bellrabi 56', Hernandez 60')
Schalke kicked off Saturday's top billing against Leverkusen in perfect fashion. With a new gung-ho approach, the Royal Blues bombarded their opponent's goal from the very first minute and it seemed to work when Leroy Sane was brought down in the sixth minute and awarded a penalty.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's ponderous run-up cost him as Bernd Leno made a great save, but Schalke weren't deterred and scored two first-half goals anyway.
In a fashion that defined Schalke's evening, and perhaps their season too, Andre Breitenreiter's side overcame a missed opportunity only to waste it all anyway by crumbling in the second half.
Same old Schalke
Just eight minutes after Huntelaar's miss, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting took the initiative to drive through the middle of the park and fire home a goal via a deflection off Ömer Toprak's shin. Fifteen minutes later, Max Meyer pulled a pass back to Sane in the middle of the Leverkusen box and Schalke were flying.
Any thought of Breitenreiter's side once again blowing their chances of a win seemed to be quickly dispelled as the home side reveled in attacking, flowing football that has rarely been on show from the Bundesliga side this season.
But this is still Schalke, and while the club came out in the second half to applause from their adoring fans, Leverkusen had other plans entirely.
Roger Schmidt's team went into Saturday's game top of the Bundesliga form table and after an uncharacteristic opening 45 minutes, it became clear why.
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Like Schalke in the opening stages of the game, Leverkusen threw men forward and through the pace of Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, Karim Bellarabi and particularly Julian Brandt, the visitors quickly showed why they are the Bundesliga's best alternative to the Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund duopoly.
Bellarabi forced a shot off the post after a wonderful save from Ralf Fährmann, but three minutes later the forward got the better of his shot-stopping opponent when he played Brandt through to squeeze a tidy finish past the front post.
The Germany winger would bag a goal of his own just two minutes later - a mistake that Fährmann said afterwards cost his side the game - before Hernandez finished superbly in the box.
In the space of six minutes, Fährmann had been asked to fish the ball out from the back of his net three times. Leverkusen pulled all three points back in their favor, terminating any initial thoughts that Schalke may have been able to turn a troubled season around so late in the campaign.
Time running out
Despite a late ploy to throw central defender Benedikt Höwedes on as an extra striker and four minutes of added time, the final whistle was greeted by half empty stands, devoid of the passion and hope that had filled it in the first half.
Like scoring two after missing a penalty, Schalke had overcome a setback, done the hard work, and put themselves in a perfect position to progress. Yet as fans of the club have seen too often this season it was another opportunity squandered as a better drilled team made short work of a squad that should be pushing for a top-four spot and a place in the German Cup final.
Breitenreiter's team now sit seventh in the league table with three defeats from their last four league games. With Hannover, Augsburg and Hoffenheim yet to play many would suggest that all is still to play for. But, under the troubled coach, the depths of Schalke's underachieving campaign may yet grow deeper.