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10:48 7th November 2005


Michael Hughes celebrates his goal against Sheffield United

THERE was plenty of fizz to this encounter, but sadly for Palace fans it ended in something of a damp squib as their side succumbed to defeat to the league's runaway leaders.

Almost inevitably it was an old boy who plotted Palace's downfall, Neil Shipperley scoring his side's third goal to wrap up a comfortable victory for Neil Warnock's men.

Unsurprisingly Shipperley received a warm welcome from the Selhurst faithful on his return to SE25, and well he might after his strike rate and service for the Eagles.

Equal unsurprisingly, given what was at stake, the match began in cagey fashion. Both sides took time to settle into their strides, though it was the visitors who first seized the initiative.

Their first shot in anger was fired in on ten minutes by midfield maestro Phil Jagielka, who had bagged a brace in the midweek humbling of Luton.
On this occasion his effort flew high over Gabor Kiraly's goal, though sixty seconds later he did test the Hungarian custodian with a volley.

Until this point the home side had barely broken out of their own half, but on 13 minutes the best chance of the game was carved out by Emmerson Boyce for Dougie Freedman, whose left-footed shot rebounded off the upright.

Clearly affronted by Palace's temerity the Blades showed why they are currently the league's premier side by almost immediately taking the lead.
Some good work by Kabba inside the Palace penalty box allowed Jagielka to plunder his third goal in a week, as his weak shot somehow eluded Kiraly's grasp and nestled in the net via an upright.

To their credit Palace responded in fine style with a Tom Soares header which bounced agonisingly wide of Paddy Kenny's goal. At the other end Kabba showed his speed and strength to outstrip Fitz Hall - no mean feat - but the Eagles skipper recovered his composure admirably.

For the first time the home side began to dominate proceedings, with the youthful midfield duo Soares and Ben Watson beginning to get a foothold in the game.

Emmerson Boyce was also a constant threat down the right flank, although he did blot his copybook with a caution just after the half hour mark.
But the Blades managed to work their way back into the game and so halt Palace's momentum.

Indeed the side from Yorkshire might have gone into the break two goals to the good had Jagielka made more of Soares' weak defensive header.
Yet on the stroke of half-time a header which was anything but weak from the veteran Michael Hughes ensured Palace drew level.

The equity lasted less than 60 seconds, however, as Paul Ifill almost immediately restored United's advantage with a calm left-footed finish from Alan Quinn's inviting cross.

Following the half-time fireworks - both on the pitch and no doubt also in the home dressing room - the second period began in spectacular fashion when Watson's inswinger was acrobatically turned away by Kenny.

The Blades 'keeper did likewise with a Borrowdale effort moments later as Palace flew out of the traps, presumably courtesy of a Dowie rocket at the interval.

As the pressure on the visitors intensified Watson's corner very nearly found its way directly into Kenny's goal, only to be denied by a goal-line clearance from Quinn.

A goal seemed certain, but sadly for Palace fans it came at the other end, and from a familiar face - Shipperley. To add to the drama there was an element of controversy too, as Kiraly appeared adamant the former Palace striker's header had not crossed the line. But the goal stood, and to his credit "Ships" kept the celebrations to a minimum.

A jinking run and shot from Freedman reaped almost immediate reward, but Kenny was equal to the task.

As the home side poured forward they were almost inevitably caught on the counter attack by Kabba, but the Blades' hotshot failed to endear himself to the fans who used to idolise him when he went to ground theatrically under Kiraly's non-existent challenge, and was rightly booked for his troubles.

Dougie Freedman after scoring goal 99

But by now the wind had been taken out of the Palace sails, and despite Dougie Freedman's consolatory penalty and some late pressure, it was not to be their day.

Palace (4-4-2): Kiraly; Boyce, Ward, Hall, Borrowdale (Freedman 80); Reich, Watson (McAnuff 70), Soares, Hughes; Morrison, Freedman.
Subs (not used): Hudson, Leigertwood, Speroni.
Scorers: Hughes, Freedman (pen).
Booked: Boyce.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Geary, Morgan, Bromby, Unsworth; Ifill, Jagielka, Montgomery, Quinn; Kabba (Webber75), Shipperley.
Subs (not used): Pericard, Tonge, Gillespie, Wright.
Scorers: Jagielka, Ifill, Shipperley
Booked: Unsworth.

Referee: Mr I Wiliiamson
Attendance: 20,334.

    Data provided by Press Association