Friedel reward stolen by the hand of Saha

Blackburn Rovers 1 - Manchester United 1
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An equaliser by Alan Smith with 30 seconds remaining rescued a point for United in a match they should have wrapped up against a Blackburn side who were overrun long before being reduced to 10 men after 70 minutes. The R-word never got an airing at Ewood Park, but even the presence of Wayne Rooney would have made no difference to United's fortunes. Although denied by the brilliance of Blackburn's goalkeeper Brad Friedel they came desperately close to throwing away a share of the points with glorious approach work betrayed by execrable finishing.

An equaliser by Alan Smith with 30 seconds remaining rescued a point for United in a match they should have wrapped up against a Blackburn side who were overrun long before being reduced to 10 men after 70 minutes. The R-word never got an airing at Ewood Park, but even the presence of Wayne Rooney would have made no difference to United's fortunes. Although denied by the brilliance of Blackburn's goalkeeper Brad Friedel they came desperately close to throwing away a share of the points with glorious approach work betrayed by execrable finishing.

The Blackburn manager, Graeme Souness, never the most stable of cannons, was beside himself about the length of time added - four minutes - though he ought not to have been, considering the time wasted by his beleaguered side. His feelings were exacerbated by the fact that Smith's scoring shot was made possible by a knockdown from Louis Saha's arm.

"It would have been hard for United to have left here without anything following that performance," said Souness. "But when you concede a goal like that in the last second, it's hard to take because the replays showed it was a clear handball. We have played a top team and showed great spirit. But when you see their goal, it is tough on us. But that's life. That's football."

United have not won at this stadium for six years, and for most of the match a defeat was very much on the cards after Paul Dickov's enterprise and speed on the turn gave Blackburn an early lead.

Driven on by the genius of Paul Scholes, who dropped back into midfield for the second half, United pounded away. The crosses came over, shots and headers rained in, but the Great Wall of Ewood denied them every time - until the very last seconds. A central ingredient of that wall was a stout piece of American timber called Friedel. He caught the ball, he punched it, and three times he repelled goalbound shots with his legs. Once he even came out of his area to head clear. At one time Friedel was the best in the Premiership, and he is hot in pursuit of that title again.

For United, a draw was simply not good enough. This was another example of a winnable game not being won. As Blackburn can testify after their 3-0 thrashing at Highbury in midweek, Arsenal are not nearly so profligate.

From the start United ran the show, with the early minutes dominated by the pace and trickery of Cristiano Ronaldo. The fact that his mistakes were greeted with jeers from the Blackburn fans showed their apprehension.

Just after the quarter-hour mark, David Thompson limped off with a damaged ankle, then Blackburn struck. Dominic Matteo's long throw bounced into United's area, where it was met by Dickov. The little Scot turned Mikaël Silvestre and lashed in a great shot from the left.

United's response was determined. They passed their way through Blackburn time and time again, only for bodies - or Friedel's legs - to get in the way of final efforts. Of the three first-half bookings (Jon Stead, Kleberson and Lorenzo Amoruso) the most significant was Blackburn's Italian central defender.

In the added time of the opening half, rather than the second, a United equaliser seemed likely, but Friedel hurled himself high to his left to claw away Kleberson's 30-yarder heading for the net.

It was Kleberson's last contribution as United reshuffled after the interval. Scholes assumed the running of midfield and Saha came into the attack. The flow of United's attacks was bewildering. Amoruso almost scored an own goal, Matteo charged down shots by Saha and Scholes in rapid succession, Friedel saved incredibly from Smith. So it went on.

Then, as Scholes sent Saha clear, he was barged off the ball by Amoruso, the last defender. What could have been a straight red was called yellow by referee Alan Wiley, but Amoruso was off anyway for a second bookable offence.

Still, United could not finish. Lucas Neill almost chested an own goal, Friedel's legs foiled Saha and then he caught a Ronaldo header. As Souness paced the touchline and Tugay Kerimoglu was booked for time-wasting, Blackburn were undermined by a great pass by Scholes, the arm-ball by Saha and then the boot of Smith.

Sir Alex Ferguson said he was "grateful for the point" and conceded that Saha had handled the ball. "Yes, that's another wrong decision the referee made today. [Friedel's] done a fantastic job. But we've had some good chances and really we should have been putting them away."

Friedel said: "It seems every week we are talking about referees. We went down to 10 men, getting battered, and then that happens. It was one play on one day but it was a critical play. We were hard done-by here."

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