(Sunday, November 19, 2006) -- For the past two-plus years, American goalkeeper Brad Friedel has been in net for every match Blackburn Rovers have played -- 103 consecutive starts.
So far, Blackburn is having an upside down season. After doing well in its first eight league matches with a 3-2-3 record -- and winning three UEFA Cup games -- Rovers dropped five straight league matches before today's 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur.
Before today's English Premier League match Friedel talked with England's Press Association. "Sometimes when you think you know it all, you get bitten on the backside," Friedel responded to a question about his strong work ethic. "This is a very humbling game and you have to remember that."
He also said he trains hard because the club has two young keepers behind him, including Jason Brown, who played for Wales in a 4-0 romp Tuesday over visiting Liechtenstein.
"Since I have been here we have had a wealth of good goalkeepers like John Filan, Alan Kelly and Alan Miller," Friedel said. "Now Jason and Peter (Enckelman) are here, so there is always competition but that's what you need."
Facing Friedel today in the Tottenham net was England's number one keeper, Paul Robinson, who took some criticism after he conceded the equalizer to Rafael Van der Vaart in the 86th minute, allowing the host Netherlands to gain a 1-1 draw in Wednesday's friendly.
"As a goalkeeper you get praised and you get hammered," Friedel said. "You need to stay on an even keel. You make a mistake and 90 percent of the time it leads to a goal. But this is the life you choose -- and it is a great life."
Friedel also said he was not overly concerned about Blackburn's recent slide. "We are confident because the only game where we under-performed was against Aston Villa," he said. "There is no panic. We have lacked goals the last couple of games, but we have some tremendous strikers. We do need three points on the board and I am convinced our luck will turn around very quickly."
A harsh referee's decision today was part of the reason why Rovers could only take one point from the home game against Hotspur, played in a cold, driving rain.
Blackburn controlled matters for the first hour and took a 1-0 lead on a highlight-reel 25-yard strike by Turkish international Tugay Kerimoglu for a 1-0 advantage in the 23rd minute. Friedel needed to make only one good save in the first half, fisting away a hard shot by Jermain Defoe in the 33rd minute.
The tide turned against Blackburn in the 60th minute when Tugay was sent off, reducing Rovers to 10 men. Hossam Ghaly took the ball for Tottenham into the Rovers box. Tugay came in from the left and seemed to slightly clip Ghaly in the heel, but the Egyptian went flying. Referee Phil Dowded immediately awarded a penalty kick, saying Tugay was the last man back, and Jermain Defoe converted the resulting PK for a 1-1 tie. Friedel, who has stopped three penalty kicks this season, guessed correctly and dove to his right, but despite getting his fingertips on Defoe's sharply driven kick, he could not keep it out of the net.
Despite being a man down, Blackburn continued to push forward, but with no result. Ghaly was sent off in stoppage time for swinging an elbow. When Spurs manager Martin Jol complained, he was also banished to the locker-room.
Blackburn (3-6-4, 13 points) might have deserved better, but has sunk to 15th place, just three points above the relegation zone.
On November 11, a hard rain had left the field at Rovers' Ewood Park dangerously slick when Manchester United and keft with a 1-0 decision.
Early, Friedel made a difficult save, but his clearance skidded to the feet of Cristiano Ronaldo. When the Portuguese winger made a cut to fire toward the empty net, he slipped and ended up on his backside. Then, Wayne Rooney beat a defender and fired a shot from a narrow angle, but Friedel made a save with his feet witch the rebound stuck in the mud under his feet in front of goal.
After Friedel brilliantly saved Louis Saha's low strike, the ball bounced free, but Rooney wildly sliced his attempt at open goal wide. Rooney was then thwarted again when he had a ferocious shot saved by Friedel's extended hand.
However, Friedel could not get to Saha's 64th-minute shot made from almost a prone position in front of the goal and Man. United's win win was secure after Rovers attackers twice hit a goalpost.
Three days after defeating Basle of Swithzerland 3-0 in the UEFA Cup, Rovers came up short 2-0 at Aston Villa in league action. November 5. Rovers played poorly, looking tired and able to muster little offense.
When defender Andre Ooijer was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box, Gareth Barry made the subsequent penalty kick for a 1-0 lead. In the 50th minute, Juan Pablo Angel beat Friedel for a 2-0 advantage.
Against Basle, Friedel was sensational and Rovers prevailed on three late tallies. Tugay scored in the 75th minute, Francis Jeffers nailed a penalty kick in the 89th minute in the 89th and a further insurance goal in stoppage from Benni McCarthy iced the triumph in stoppage time.
Friedel was tested early. In the second minute, he booted away a header from Mladen Petric after Reto Zanni delivered the cross. He followed that with three more exceptional stops on Petic and two other full-out diving saves
"Brad produced the goods," Rovers manager Mark Hughes said. "That's why he is my number one, because he is able to stop shots and headers of good quality."
Rovers are 2-0 atop the UEFA Cup second-round Group E, one of eight five-team groups.
"We started well and should have taken the lead, Basle coach Cristian Gross said. "Blackburn has to thank Friedel, because he made some excellent saves."