Dyer start and a dire ending for Blades: MATCH REPORT AND SLIDESHOW

SHEFFIELD UTD 2 v CRYSTAL PALACE 2: A PREDICTABLE scoreline given that the men at the respective clubs' helms know each others tactical nuances inside out.

But the fact one regarded this as a victory of sorts while the other described it as a "kick in the guts" told the real story of a match which saw Sheffield United regain their top six status.

Neil Warnock, whose Crystal Palace side snatched a point courtesy of Nick Carle's 95th minute goal, was positively jubilant when he emerged from the bowels of Bramall Lane to chew the fat with the press.

By contrast Kevin Blackwell, for years Warnock's number two before striking out on his own at Leeds and Luton, cut a despondent and disconsolate figure after watching the Australian pounce seconds after the allotted extra time.

"I'm pig sick to be honest," Blackwell said. "It's so frustrating at the moment because you need that element of luck and we're not getting anything whatsoever.

"That's not to say Palace didn't do a good job or that there were times, especially at the end, when we should have been smarter but nothing seems to be going our way lately.

"It feels like losing and I'm gutted for the lads."

The knowledge they will face leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers on Boxing Day in possession of a play-off berth was scant consolation but Blackwell still found some positives despite his demeanour.

Nathan Dyer, marking his first start in United colours with a well-taken finish, was among them.

The youngster is scheduled to return to Southampton next month but after hearing Blackwell insist that confidence is the only barrier standing between both him, fellow winger David Cotterill and careers at the highest level, refused to rule-out the possibility of prolonging his stay.

"I was really happy to get my first start because I've waited a long time," said Dyer.

"But I've kept my head down and the gaffer has always encouraged me in training.

"What happens in the future is down to him.

"If he needs me then we'll sit down and talk.

"If he doesn't then I'll thank him for giving me the opportunity for bringing me here and being part of a big squad. And a very good one too."

"Nathan has done okay but he's got to believe in himself more," Blackwell added. "Cotts too but I was pleased with them out there.

"If they can do that then they've got big futures in the game."

Blackwell's powers of persuasion had been sorely tested during the build-up to Saturday's televised fixture as a series of unconvincing displays saw his team briefly lose their grip on the promotion positions.

But despite arguing publicly that poor fortune had been the driving force behind a sequence of results which, until Palace's visit, had seen them lose three home games in succession, Blackwell's selection told a different story.

Making four changes, only two of which were enforced, was a tacit admission that dubious decision making and some average individual displays have also contributed to United's difficulties.

The shake-up had the desired effect as one of those, Dyer, was responsible for firing United into a half-time lead.

Clear-cut opportunities had been at a premium until Palace's John Oster and James Beattie exchanged chances before the on-loan winger seized upon Jose Fonte's error and stroked home beyond Julian Speroni.

With Nick Montgomery, returning after a calf strain, working tirelessly in midfield, Dyer's clinical finish should have provided the platform for a much-improved effort after the interval.

But some more woeful defending, this time at the opposite end of the field, put the outcome back in the balance when Oster's corner sailed unhindered towards Paddy McCarthy and he gratefully converted from close range.

Relinquishing their advantage in such disappointing circumstances saw the frailties which have hampered United of late re-emerge.

Two headers by Danny Webber, the latter drawing a superb save from Speroni, provided glimpses of the quality which exists within their ranks but, at present, is hidden beneath a veneer of self-doubt.

United were indebted to McCarthy for somehow blazing over with the net at his mercy after a Shaun Derry shot had rebounded off the crossbar.

Fortunately for the centre-half, the DVD's chronicling this year's footballing bloopers have already hit the shelves.

It appeared to have been a costly mistake when McCarthy, his evening going from bad to worse, was judged to have hauled down Beattie in the penalty area and the former England international duly claimed his 11th of the campaign from the spot.

But, with almost the last kick of the game, Carle equalised in dramatic fashion when Chris Morgan's clearance fell at his feet.

Warnock, who led United into the Premier League in 2006 before moving to Selhurst Park, said: "It is hard to come back and, if I'm honest, I wouldn't like to do it too often.

"But when I look around the stadium now and see a 24,000 crowd here for a Championship game then I think United should be proud.

"A lot of other clubs should look at what they've done."


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