Sam Allardyce said Sheffield United had goalkeeper Mark Howard to thank for their Capital One Cup second round win over West Ham United.
Howard repeatedly denied the Hammers during both normal and extra-time at the Boleyn Ground. He saved from Enner Valencia, Ravel Morrison, Reece Burke, Mauro Zarate, Stewart Downing, Diego Poyet and Mark Noble before winning the tie for the League One side by saving Ecuador striker Valencia's shootout penalty.
The 27-year-old was beaten by Diafra Sakho's header five minutes before half-time, but Winston Reid's second-half own-goal gifted Sheffield United an equaliser and the Blades defended resolutely to take the game to penalties. After eight successful spot-kicks, Howard dived right to save from Valencia before Blades skipper Michael Doyle beat Jussi Jaaskelainen to settle the tie in the Yorkshire club's favour.
"They were fantastic save by their goalkeeper because time after time we hit the target, and time after time he pulled off saves well beyond the league he is playing in," said Big Sam, whose side had 23 shots on goal, nine of which tested Howard. "He has had one of those inspired nights and, of course, if he plays like that all season he won't be staying in League One.
"We found a 'keeper in his top form and that has cost us in the end because he's the one who saved the penalty as well. It's a disappointing night in the fact that we lost, but the football that we played and the people going out there and getting the game they needed under their belts gave an excellent account of themselves.
"We didn't score enough goals because a reflective score would have been three or maybe even four-one. The fact they scored through an own-goal was very lucky for them when they went through the entire 120 minutes having just two shots on target.
"That showed how much we dominated. Yet again, we should have got more goals, but we didn't.
"You've got to give Sheffield United credit for the way they defended. When you decide to not try to go forward, which they did, it's difficult to break them down. However, we had the quality of player to break them down, but we didn't and we couldn't find a way past their goalkeeper.
"The own-goal realy knocked us off our stride because it was an average cross which wasn't going anywhere until it hit Reidy on the knee and went past Jussi. If it hadn't, I think we'd have won at least won 1-0, if not by more."
Had West Ham added to Sakho's maiden goal in Claret and Blue before half-time - or even before Reid's unfortunate own-goal - then the manager was confident his side would have played out the tie comfortably. Instead, Sheffield United's equaliser gave them something to defend as a team and they did that well in the second hour of play.
"I think a second goal would have settled it. Two or three-nil at half-time would have been a fairer score to us, but their goalkeeper kept them in the game, so it wasn't poor finishing so much as him having a storming game.
"Even if he parried it out, it didn't seem to be our night where it dropped to one of our players. It went to one of their defenders instead. Then, our goalbound shots seemed to hit their defenders and get blocked, so I can't complain about the performance, but I can complain that we have lost on penalties after a very good performance where we shouldn't have done.
"It's a disappointing night from that point of view, but there were a lot of positives from the way the players played for most of the game, except finishing the opposition off."
The manager had warm words for the performances of teenagers Poyet, Burke - who assisted Sakho's goal - and Dan Potts.
"They were very, very good. Three Under-21 players didn't look out of place and were comfortable, so that's good for the future of West Ham. Ravel Morrison also had his first game and Enner had his first game since the World Cup, and he had to play 120 minutes, which was some going and he did a fantastic job.
"Sakho took his goal well and he also got down the right-hand side well during the game. so that was good."
FT - West Ham United 1-1 Sheffield United (4-5 pens)