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Michael Taylor 19th Dec 2008 - 16:05

Warnock hopes to blunt Blades

Neil Warnock used to live and breath Sheffield United but, on Saturday, the load-mouthed manager returns to Bramall Lane with the intention of dismantling the Blades play-off push.

Warnock spent eight successful years at the Blades, building the team up from Championship nobodies to playing Premier League football in front of a sold-out Bramall Lane crowd.

However, a dire end to the Premier League campaign combined with the Tevez saga meant relegation was swiftly followed by a change in management, as Kevin McCabe brought in the embarrassingly bad Bryan Robson as Warnock's replacement.

On Saturday Warnock takes his Crystal Palace side up to Sheffield and, to add extra fuel to the fire, he faces a showdown with his former assistant Kevin Blackwell, Robson's replacement at the Blades.

Blackwell infamously ended his partnership with Warnock in 2003 as the lure of money took him to Leeds to become Peter Reid's assistant, a move Warnock felt let-down by.

The game, live on Sky Sports 1, is not purely for sentimental stakes as the winner will also boost their promotion ambitions. The two teams go into the match level on points with only one goal separating seventh-placed United and eighth-placed Palace, while both teams are just a single point away from the play-offs.

The Blades have been suffering stuttering home form of late, losing the last three games against Reading, Wolves and Burnley, as Blackwell has started to feel the heat of an ambitious fan base.

United had started the season as one of the promotion favourites but, with a lack of creativity coming from midfield and no decent partner for James Beattie (5/1 first goal, 5/4 anytime), they have found breaking teams down difficult.

Palace, on the other hand, have been surging of late after a slow start to the season but the Eagles are climbing the table and are unbeaten in six.

Former Sheffield Wednesday striker Shefki Kuqi (6/1 first goal, 7/4 anytime) has been making in-roads with the Selhurst faithful, after he was transfer-listed for making obscene gestures at a group of Palace fans, chipping in with some vital goals.

The Blades start the game as even priced favourites while Palace look good value at 11/5 to repeat the result of last Christmas when they won 1-0 (Palace to win 1-0 is priced 7/1) on Warnock's first return, the draw is priced 11/5.

An interesting punt could be the 11/4 about Paul Ifill to score anytime. The former Sheff Utd winger never seemed to get going in his spell at Bramall Lane but, with an eye for goal and a point to prove, he may be the one to put the Blades to the sword.

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