PL25: Friedel scores but has to settle for being the warm-up act

To celebrate 25 years of the Premier League each week in Football Fancast we’re going to be looking back at a memorable game that took place on the corresponding date. This time out we revisit a jaw-dropping last few minutes at the Valley that defied all expectation.

There are few more childishly thrilling sights in football than a goalkeeper thundering down-field for a late, late set-piece with his team in dire straits. It brings to mind Jimmy Glass’ heroics for Carlisle that saved the Cumbrians’ league status at the death in 1999. It brings to mind Hollywood at its most far-fetched.

On February 21st 2004 Blackburn stopper Brad Friedel got the nod from his manager Graeme Souness and hared into Charlton Athletic’s box for one last roll of the dice, stationing himself purposely – cleverly – between two marked team-mates for a corner postponed for his arrival. His side were trailing 2-1 at The Valley and with the game eking into added-on time there was little else to lose.

Unfortunately the delivery was over-hit, bypassing the tight cluster of players all jostling for position ahead of Dean Kiely and instead landing at the feet of Paul Gallagher on the far edge of the penalty area. This however was to the American’s advantage because now he was no longer a distraction to the Addicks defence: with more pressing concerns on their mind the looming presence of a giant with gloves nearly as big as a diminutive winger had become just another figure in the mix.

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Finding himself in space Friedel went into poacher mode, holding his position and awaiting the inevitable low drilled cross that Gallagher was in the process of carving out. When it came he stuck a size 13 boot out, redirected the pace of the ball and in doing so joined a very select band of top flight number ones who can include ‘goal-scorer’ on their C.V.

The unlikeliest of heroes had pulled off a last-gasp equaliser and the celebrations that followed were perfectly suited to this rarest of feats with wide-open mouths in disbelief all round. This was especially true of the veteran keeper who responded with unrestrained ecstasy. Who could blame him? This surely would be the only occasion in a long illustrious career when the 33-year-old would experience goal-scoring glory and furthermore a precious point had been salvaged. He was entitled to enjoy every single second.

Two minutes later however he was lying on the turf utterly despondent.

Even if the ball had not reached Friedel at the culmination of this mid-table clash the game would still warrant the title of being memorable. For 89 minutes it ebbed and flowed at a terrific pace with the home side bang up for it after suffering three consecutive defeats and taking out their frustrations on a Blackburn side stuck in a rut of inconsistency. Within 15 minutes Charlton were two up courtesy of strikes by Carlton Cole and Jason Euell and they had further chances which would have certainly killed the contest before the second half introduction of Dwight Yorke changed the momentum. With just 15 minutes left on the clock Andy Cole benefited from a wayward back-pass and reduced the deficit with clinical aplomb.

In between all this was a cornucopia of missed opportunities with the post being struck twice-fold by both teams and numerous examples of lackadaisical defending at each end. It really was a fun, rollercoaster game hosted by clubs determined to showcase the very worst and best of themselves.

Then arrived the memorable novelty moment; the shocking conclusion that would surely dominate the back pages. The Jimmy Glass finale.

Only that wasn’t the end of it. That was merely the hors d’oeuvre.

From kick-off, stunned and deflated Charlton kept possession on auto-pilot. Blackburn dutifully chased them down presumably still trying to process their goalkeeper’s act of intrepidness.

With seconds remaining a floated ball sat up just right for Claus Jensen and the Danish midfielder swung at it, watching the whole time as it sailed 25 yards towards the top corner. Friedel – perhaps out of breath from his recent excursion and the subsequent emotion – managed to lay a glove on it but to no avail.

There are few more childishly thrilling sights in football than a last-gasp winner. Given the highly unusual circumstances around it all of the participants involved can be forgiven for not knowing how to react to this particular one. Blackburn settled on despair. Charlton had wide-open mouths in disbelief.

What happened next?

The Addicks finished a very respectable seventh in the Premier League, their highest position since 1953. Rovers skirted with relegation for long spells of the season so relief accompanied their 15th place come May. Considering the talent that bolstered their strong squad however the underachievement resulted in immense pressure being placed on Souness.