THE OBSERVER - SMITH STEALS POINT WITH HELPING HAND
Norwegian police trying to track down The Scream could do worse than check out the Blackburn Rovers technical area.
Graeme Souness was on his feet and incandescent with rage for much of this game, and with good reason. The home side's attempts to hang on to a one-goal lead were hampered first by the unnecessary dismissal of Lorenzo Amoruso 20 minutes from the end, then by a ludicrous four minutes of added time after a goalless and injury-free second half.
At the end of the extra period, Alan Smith achieved what had looked beyond Manchester United all afternoon by beating an inspired Brad Friedel, but only after Alan Wiley had failed to spot Louis Saha use his hand to guide Paul Scholes's pass into the striker's path.
For much of the game it looked as though the club about to spend around £25 million on Wayne Rooney would be upstaged by a £150,000 bargain. United fans in the Darwen End had barely completed a chant of 'City reject' when the well-travelled Dickov was suddenly celebrating in front of them.
THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH - UNITED'S LATE RAID HAS SONUESS BOILING OVER
According to his assistant, Dean Saunders, "the manager's head was boiling" after seeing his side robbed of victory by a 94th-minute goal that should never have been allowed. But Souness has been kicked in the teeth so often that he can sense when the boot is being cocked, which is why he reached boiling point not when the goal was scored but when fourth official Chris Foy ludicrously indicated that four extra minutes would be played.
Souness, whose side had already been hanging on for 20 minutes with 10 men after the dismissal of centre-half Lorenzo Amoruso for two bookable offences, just knew that something awful was about to befall his team. Yet even he could not have anticipated the scale of the injustice when Louis Saha, in the manner of an Olympic beach volleyball player, handled the ball back to goalscorer Alan Smith.
It was not until Ferguson replaced Kleberson with Saha at half-time, though, allowing Scholes to revert to midfield, that United began to establish anything like a rhythm to their game. And only after Ryan Giggs heeded a warning from the referee to stop his incessant whining did he begin making those characteristic, crab-like runs across the area to line up shots on goal.
Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo also found more fertile pastures when they swapped wings, each setting up close-range headers for Smith, who nodded the first over the bar and watched Friedel dive to his right to punch the other around a post. As Ferguson admitted: "It looked as though we would never score."
Despite Friedel's brilliance, it will be worrying to United fans that they were not able to win a game in which they played against 10 men for so long.
And those supporters did not seem happy to endorse some of Ferguson's signings, singing their hymns of praise only for the absent Roy Keane, the long-gone Eric Cantona and the badly injured Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who may never wear the red shirt again. Wayne Rooney should be at Old Trafford tomorrow, though, if only to accompany his Everton team-mates for a Premiership match, and if he decides to stay to complete a £25 million move, it should considerably cheer the Old Trafford faithful. Crazy as it might seem after a fortnight of the season, it is a must win match for United if they are not to fall as uncomfortably behind the leaders as Paula Radcliffe.
THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY- FRIEDEL REWARD STOLEN BY THE HAND OF SAHA
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.
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.
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.
THE SUNDAY TIMES - SAHA HANDS SMITH LAST-GASP GOAL
Should he stay and will he go? The chatter before kick-off centred on Graeme Souness, reported in a Scottish tabloid to be heading back to Rangers, and, naturally, Manchester United’s bid for Wayne Rooney. But by full-time there was only one name on the lips of 26,155 supporters filing out of Ewood Park: Brad Friedel, steepling American former basketball player, who had a Magic Johnson day. It took United until the final 30 seconds of the four minutes of stoppage time to break Friedel’s extraordinary resistance. Even then, they required a hand from fortune, another from Alan Wiley, the referee, and the most significant from Louis Saha.
Friedel’s defiance came mostly in the second half, when United, finally discovering some urgency after a moribund opening period, began stretching Blackburn on the counter-attack and shelled their opponents’ box. One save, in the 89th minute, was especially alert. Cristiano Ronaldo chipped forward and Saha headed back for Scholes to power a volley towards the corner of Friedel’s goal. The American managed to fling a foot at the ball and deflect it for a corner. That move showed United at their best, but in most of the other instances in which Friedel denied them, they were complicit. "We didn’t win because of a combination of some fantastic goalkeeping and some bad misses," said Ferguson.
A stretch of play between the 70th and 80th minutes was particularly painful for United. Ryan Giggs, making space to cross beautifully, bent the ball onto the head of Smith and the striker directed it straight at Friedel. The goalkeeper still had to be doughty to keep it out, but Smith had time and space to do better. It was a similar story when Scholes back-heeled to Saha and the Frenchman thrashed his shot towards goal, but not far enough away from Friedel’s dive. From a Liam Miller cross, Ronaldo, with the best chance of all, nodded straight at the Blackburn No 1. In the midst of this pressure, Lorenzo Amoruso was sent off for a second cautionable offence after body-checking Ronaldo.
Earlier in the half, Saha had shot powerfully on the turn from 20 yards, but Friedel saved, and there was another good stop from Giggs. Smith headed over the bar and Dominic Matteo blocked a Saha drive, then leapt up to further deny Scholes. United’s improvement came after Saha replaced Kleberson and Scholes moved back to midfield. The little genius was masterful there and, should Rooney arrive and provide Ferguson with a proper second striker, Scholes can look forward to an extended return to the position where he made his name.
The five points United have already fallen behind Arsenal and Chelsea look a very large gap to bridge. The profligacy of Ferguson’s team showed, perhaps, why Rooney is needed to reinforce them but on yesterday’s evidence, it could be argued that if United make improvements, it should be in midfield or defence. Kleberson and Eric Djemba-Djemba performed moderately and, in the centre of defence, Mikael Silvestre and John O’Shea lacked authority.
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