United battle to the end but must settle for play-offs

Crystal Palace 0 Sheffield United 0
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The Independent Football

Sheffield United maintained their pursuit of the Championship's pacemakers to the very end but Kevin Blackwell's team will have to go the extra mile in the play-offs if they are to play in the Premier League next season.

If there was disappointment at failing to end the regular season on a winning note yesterday, United could take consolation from the fact Birmingham's victory at Reading meant the result at Selhurst Park was academic in terms of the automatic promotion places.

United have been the division's form team of late, but until the latter stages here they rarely looked like top-flight contenders. Chris Morgan headed against a post in injury time as United threw men forward, but they could easily have lost had Crystal Palace not squandered a number of chances early in the second half.

Blackwell complained that his team should have had two penalties for fouls on Darius Henderson and hailed Julian Speroni, the Palace goalkeeper, as his man of the match. Palace had little to play for but their pride and manager Neil Warnock admitted the build-up had been difficult. A former United manager and a lifelong supporter, he said he was relieved he could now sit back and support them in the play-offs, where they face Preston North End.

David Cotterill was the source of United's best work, but for long periods Henderson's aerial threat looked the only likely source of a goal. He headed wide at the far post from a cross by Cotterill, who twice went close with shots inside the area.

It was Palace who started brighter after the break, Victor Moses firing narrowly wide after Shefki Kuqi's flick-on and Neil Danns shooting beyond the far post after a slick move on the edge of the penalty area. Paddy Kenny parried another Danns effort and was relieved to see the Palace midfielder collide with a colleague, Nick Carle, in the rush to meet the rebound.

Lee Hills and Rui Fonte both squandered further chances, though it was United who finished the stronger as Speroni made fine saves from Greg Halford's header and Jamie Ward's point-blank effort. The goalkeeper was finally beaten three minutes into injury time, but was relieved to see Morgan's header rattle a post.

Crystal Palace (4-3-2-1): Speroni; Lawrence, J Fonte, McCarthy, Hill; Danns (Scowcroft, 90), Ertl, Carle; Stokes (Hills, 72), Moses (R Fonte, 55); Kuqi. Substitutes not used: Clyne, Cadogan.

Sheffield United (4-4-2): Kenny; Walker, Morgan, Kilgallon, Naughton; Cotterill, Montgomery, Quinn (Webber, 89), Halford; Ward (Lupoli, 74), Henderson (Beattie, 74). Substitutes not used: Hendrie, O'Toole.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).

Booked: Crystal Palace Lawrence, Ertl.

Man of the match: Cotterill.

Attendance: 22,824.