(Tuesday, December 29, 2006) -- Brad Friedel won a duel of American goalkeepers Saturday when Blackburn Rovers came from behind and downed host Reading 2-1 in an English Premier League match at Madejski Stadium.
U.S. keeper Marcus Hahnemann was undone by woeful defense on Reading's part.
After winning four straight, Reading had a loss and a 0-0 draw at relegation-challenged Watford in its last two outings. Rovers entered Saturday's meeting with two straight league losses and 2-5-2 in its last nine EPL games, though Blackburn defeated AS Nancy Lorraine of France 1-0 Wednesday in the UEFA Cup on defender Lucas Neill's tally two minutes into stoppage time.
While Rovers have struggled in the Premier League, they are alive and well in Europe's second-tier tournament after winning Group E with a 3-0-1 record and 10 points. Blackburn will open play in the 32-team knockout round at Germany's Bayer Leverkusen at a date yet to be determined.
In the Premier League, Hahnemann, who had four clean sheets in the last six Reading matches, has been helped by a strong defense, though the Royals have had trouble scoring. Friedel has been playing as well as he has at any time during 108 consecutive starts for Rovers, but has often been let down by poor defending.
Reading gained the first advantage after 30 minutes of up-and-down action with both keepers making alert saves. In the 41st minute, shortly after Friedel made a great kick save on a shot from James Harper, the Reading midfielder ran onto a looping pass and drilled a shot low past Friedel for a 1-0 lead.
Reading had success with its offside trap, with Blackburn's South African striker Benni McCarthy three times shooting into the net, only to have the three potential goals each waved off on an offside call.
At the half, Blackburn manager Mark Hughes made a major strategic shift. After using a 4-5-1 formation in the first half, attempting to neutralize Reading's active midfield play, he inserted a second striker for a 4-4-2 with two midfielders attacking frequently.
Rovers dominated the second half with Friedel only called on to make one difficult save, against Ivar Ingimarsson in the 71st minute.
Meanwhile, Rovers kept Hahnemann busy at the other end. In the 64th minute, Neill took the ball down the right side, beat a defender and crossed to the far post. Reading's offside trap failed, leaving an unmarked McCarthy to go low and head an equalizer past Hahnemann.
A minute later, Hahnemann made a pair of outstanding saves on drives from David Bentley before Reading midfielder John Oster came off the bench in the 83rd minute and made a costly mistake. Bentley intercepted his pass in full stride, raced toward goal and drilled a wicked shot into the top of the net from just above the penalty area for the 2-1 decision.
Blackburn (5-8-4, 19 points) escaped the relegation zone, moving up to 16th place, but is within three points of 12th place and six points of ninth place while owning a game in hand on all teams above it.
Reading (8-8-2, 26) is in eighth place, heading into a holiday schedule which includes visits to second-place Chelsea next Tuesday and league-leading Manchester United December 30, following Saturday's home match with Everton.
Against Nancy in the UEFA Cup, Friedel was called into action early, deflecting away an entry pass just it made it through to striker Carlos Kim, who was poised to score. Seven minutes later, the Americam turned away a dangerous shot by Frederic Biancalani
In the 32nd minute, Friedel did well to block to Pascal Berenguer's effort and also grabbed Frederic
Biancalani's well-struck drive in the 39th minute.
Friedel mad a solid save on Benjamin Gavanon's 19-yard free kick in the 54th following a foul the Nancy bench argued happened in the box and should have brought at penalty kick. Friedel scrambled to tip Gavanon's long free kick over the crossbar 10 minutes later.
The victory came after a rough patch for Rovers. On December 9, Blackburn, reduced to 10 men in the 40th minute when Stephane Henchoz was sent off in the 40th minute, fell to visiting Newcastle United 3-1.
Friedel made two good saves early, but was beaten twice in a four-minute span, the result of defensive misplays. In the 31st minute, United's Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins took advantage of a poorly-executed offside trap and beat Friedel one-on-one. Four minutes later, midfielder Steven Taylor was unmarked and placed his header beyond Friedel's reach to make it 2-0.
After Morten Gamst Pedersen pulled Rovers to within 2-1 in the 47th minute, Obafemi secured the victory by scoring in stoppage time.
In a makeup road match December 5, Friedel played brilliantly for 93 minutes, but Talal El Karkouri rolled a free kick -- the last play of the match -- past a poorly-set wall to send Charlton Athletic past Blackburn 1-0 at the Valley.
Friedel had made three outstanding saves to keep Blackburn in the match. In the 49th minute, he stopped Bryan Hughes' point-blank blast. In the 73rd minute, Friedel raced five yards outside of his penalty area to beat Marcus Bent to a ball and clear it up-field. In the 89th minute, when Rovers reserve defender Tugay Kerimoglu mis-hit a back-pass, Friedel went to the ground to save a shot from Bent.
In injury time, however, Rovers' defensive wall was set too far to the right, leaving a gap for El Karkouri to exploit.
In a November 23 UEFA Cup match, Blackburn went to the Netherlands and came away with a 0-0 draw at Feyenoord of Rotterdam with Friedel playing an essesntial role.
He made a leg save on Greek international Angelos Charisteas in the first half, stopped shots from Nicky Hofs and Charisteas before intermission and later made good save on Danny Buijs..
Reading went into Saturday's loss to Rovers after a 0-0 draw with cellar-dwelling Waford seven days earlier. Hahnemann had his busiest day of the season with 13 saves, including parrying away shots from Hameur Bouazza and Alhassan Bangura in the second half.
American defender Jay DeMerit went the distance for Watford.
Reading was missing four offensive starters, including American Bobby Convey, who will miss at least two more weeks following arthroscopic surgery to remove damaged cartilage.
Convey has suffered from a knee ailment since the World Cup in Germany and his 72 minutes against Portsmouth October 28 constituted his only appearance in the Royals' last nine outings. He returned to England last week after spending several weeks in the U.S. resting and working with U.S. national-team trainer Jim Hashimoto.
On December 6, Reading squandered a second-half lead and fell to host Newcastle 3-2 at St James Park.
Hahnemann made six saves, but Obafemi Martins scored a penalty kick to make it 2-2 in the 57th minute after Ibrahima Sonko was taken down in the box. In the 84th minute, Hahnemann blocked a shot by Antoine Sibierski shot on his goal-line, but Belozoglu Emre unleashed a wicked shot to put way the rebound.
Hahnemann stopped Sibierski in the 14th minute, but nine minutes later he could not get to Sibierski's running header for a 1-0 advantage. Reading took a 2-1 lead on a pair of goals from James Harper.
Hahnemann posted his fifth shutout of the season four days earlier, beating Bolton Wanderers 1-0 on Kevin Doyle's fifth goal in six matches. Hahnemann stopped Kevin Nolan's low drive, turned away El-Hadji Diouf's header and later stopped Nolan again. In the final 10 minutes, Nicolas Anelka had two good looks at goal, but Hahnemann denied him on both occasions.