Today's Under-23 match at Selhurst Park was an afternoon marked by returns for Richard Shaw's Crystal Palace.
It was a return for James Daly, who played in red and blue for the first time since joining Kingstonian on loan in August. It was also a return for Luke Dreher, who, after months sidelined by injury, finally started a game for the Eagles again and, perhaps most importantly, it was a return to winning ways for Palace having lost consecutive matches over the last few weeks after winning three in a row.
The game's first half showcased a paradox between two quarters of the match with Sheffield United dominating for the first 20-odd minutes and the Eagles leading for the second.
Starting on top, perhaps unsurprisingly the first chance of the sunny afternoon fell to the visitors when, following a Harry Sheppeard cross, Palace's David Boateng was forced into scooping a ball away from goal as he guarded on the line.
With a rare Palace attempt in the opening exchanges, Kian Flanagan missed an opportunity to net the first goal when he snatched at an effort which shot-stopper Sam Kelly struck a leg behind to deflect away.
Daly - playing on his return from injury but looking sharp all afternoon - then troubled the boots of Sheffield's Kelly when, bursting through one-on-one with the visiting back-four hunting him down in synchrony, his effort was reactively kicked clear to safety to maintain the deadlock. For their third chance in five minutes, Levi Lumeka then tried his luck at forcing Kelly into action, however his close-range effort was held by the 'keeper.
Palace's newfound dominance finally paid off when a stinging strike from a Flanagan free-kick cannoned off the cross-bar and eventually pinged off Daly's boot and into the back of the net.
The Palace Scholar of the Year then doubled his tally in fine fashion as he nipped into the box before sending the ball smartly over Kelly, giving the Eagles a deserved two-goal cushion. Ending a remarkable afternoon in the final stages of rehabilitation, though, the forward only played for the first half and so the chance to earn his hat-trick left with him as he walked from the pitch.
Opening the second half, Palace resumed their position as the dominant side of the afternoon when Flanagan turned and twisted his boots around the ball on the edge of the box before again launching an effort which ricocheted off the cross-bar before the ball was whipped back in to Lumeka, who headed emphatically into the net.
With three goals under their belt, Palace seemed to have secured three points too and played with assured confidence, not launching themselves at the visitors but clearly the dominant side and they saw good chances missed by Nikola Tavares and Malachi Boateng respectively.
It was Gio McGregor who created the next agonisingly close effort, however, when he rattled the upright with a thunderous shot from the left.
But the remainder of the game was largely uneventful, with its result seemingly decided long before the final whistle. Creating a handful of promising but ultimately unrewarding chances, Palace ran-out deserving victors to strengthen their hand near the top of the Professional Development League.
Palace: Perri, D.Boateng, Woods (Mensah 59), Tavares, Brown, Dreher (McGregor 45), M.Boateng, Flanagan, Lumeka, Pierrick, Daly (Street 45).
Subs not used: Tupper, Aveiro.
Sheffield: Kelly, Bennett (Brunt 77), Belehouan, Neal (Fleary 54), Gordon, York, Sheppeard, Broadbent, Young (Potts 68), Greaves, Boyes.
Subs not used: Dewhurst, Williams.
For full post-match reaction and match highlights, make sure to keep an eye on Palace TV or 'Palace TV' under the app.