Kelly denies Bassett

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THE welcome that Crystal Palace organised for the return of their new manager, Dave Bassett, to London should have warmed the cockles of his heart yesterday. Reduced to 10 men after 58 minutes, they battled vigorously and it was only some inspired goalkeeping in the Sheffield United goal by Alan Kelly that allowed the visitors to take away a point.

The perennial mystery of why 10 men often outplay 11 was underlined here when Palace's Darren Pitcher was shown the red card for a foul on Don Hutchison, himself booked earlier for a somewhat similar foul. The new guv'nor used his substitutes intelligently, and the addition of George Ndah to the existing attacking threat of Bruce Dyer almost won the day for him.

Twice in the later stages of the game Dyer was thwarted by Kelly's speed of thought and bravery in blocking shots from point-blank range. Earlier, the keeper had shown his class with some athletic leaps, finger- tipping to safety the long-range shots from Dean Gordon.

It was to be a goalkeepers' day. In the Palace goal, Nigel Martyn had to perform his heroics as early as the fifth minute. Mark Patterson, whose foraging tenacity did much to galvanise United, let rip with a 35-yarder that had the keeper at full stretch to prevent disaster - a feat he had to repeat in the game's dying seconds, when David White almost stole the three points with a deceptive dipper of a shot.

Between times both sides endeavoured to play a precise passing game, not aided by a pitch that had cut up early and gave no encouragement to such laudable ambitions. United, sparked by Patterson's early testing of Martyn, seemed to have got off to a flying start until the 15th minute, when Dyer's cross found Gareth Taylor's head beyond the far post only for Kelly to bring off the first of a catalogue of splendid saves.

Sheffield made most progress down their right flank where Chris Short provided White with exemplary attacking support. Brett Angell and Hutchison, though, were not getting much change out of Gareth Davies and Gordon, and the balance was now tilting Palace's way.

That seemed set to change with Pitcher's sending-off but, as more often than not, the loss of a man seemed to increase the incentive for victory, and they would have given Bassett a three- point flying start but for the inspired interventions of Kelly.