Blackburn manager Mark Hughes hailed the heroics of goalkeeper Brad Friedel after first slamming the latest law he claims has ruined the game.
Blackburn's goalless draw at Sheffield United proved to be a tale of three penalty saves in the closing 20 minutes to leave both teams still searching for their first Barclays Premiership win of the season. United goalkeeper Paddy Kenny stepped into the spotlight first, saving a spot-kick from Rovers captain Lucas Neill after David Unsworth was harshly judged to have pushed Benni McCarthy in the 70th minute.
Seven minutes later Blackburn centre-half Zurab Khizanishvili was adjudged to have pulled the shirt of striker Rob Hulse by referee Mike Dean, only for Friedel to push away Unsworth's penalty. Then four minutes from time came another poor decision when Neill was accused of handling inside the area by one of Dean's assistants, and this time it was Hulse who was frustrated by American Friedel.
Hughes said: "When that decision was given I thought our luck had run out but thankfully Brad Friedel saved us again. "He was excellent all day, not just for the penalty saves and I know I wouldn't swap him for any other keeper in the Premiership. "Under the circumstances we are delighted to get something out of the game." Blackburn have now conceded four penalties in their opening four matches of the season, three of which Friedel has now saved. The one he failed to keep out was against Chelsea a fortnight ago following a decision when Andre Ooijer was ruled to have fouled John Terry, enabling Chelsea to emerge 2-0 victors.
Hughes believes the decision in that game played some part in Dean's thinking in this match, in particular due to the new directives from the Football Association highlighting contact in the area. "I thought ours was a penalty because Benni was looking at the ball as it comes into the box when he is then pushed from behind by Unsworth," added Hughes. "But for us it's the second game running we have been pulled up with this new directive on holding in the box which I feel is making things very difficult for referees. "The type of challenge for which he has given a penalty is something you see time and time again in penalty areas all over the country. "Unfortunately we were involved in a high-profile game against the champions a couple of weeks ago when a similar decision was given against us and maybe that was in the referee's mind on this occasion. "He has obviously seen that and sometimes in the heat of the game things like that pop into your mind."
With regard the Neill handball, Hughes was at a complete loss, insisting: "That was never a penalty. "Lucas had watched the flight of the ball all the way and then controlled it with his chest. "Everyone in the ground I think was astounded when he gave that penalty, although in fairness to the referee it was the assistant that did so on this occasion." Hughes admitted to having words with Dean as he came off the pitch and added: "Yes I spoke to him in no uncertain terms - but I think I was polite!"
Unsurprisingly, United manager Neil Warnock had a different opinion on all three penalties as he said: "Obviously I thought ours were penalties and theirs wasn't. "The first was typical of an international player going down in the area after simply being briefed on. "The only thing that was missing was a couple of dramatic somersaults. If there was any touch from Unsworth on McCarthy then it was marginal. "As for the second it was sheer stupidity from the boy that he pulled Hulse, particularly after both players had been booked for something similar earlier. "Then as for the third, whether it was shoulder or arm, that's where Neill controlled it."
Like Hughes, though, Warnock was unconcerned his side are without a win as he added: "For all that I enjoyed the game. "I would rather be near the bottom of the Premiership than stuck in the Championship any day of the week."