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BBC Sport's Peter Slater
reports from Bramall Lane
 real 14k

Saturday, 30 December, 2000, 17:42 GMT
Sheffield United 3-2 Preston
David Kelly
Kelly forced United's equaliser at Bramall Lane
Super sub James Thomas completed a remarkable Sheffield United comeback as they wiped out Preston's two-goal lead.

The visitors had raced into a 2-0 lead after David Healy and Mark Rankine netted in the opening 20 minutes.

But a penalty from Bobby Ford gave the Blades a lifeline before half-time.

David Kelly levelled and then Thomas forced the Blades into the lead to continue their excellent home form.

Debut goal

Preston had got off to a dream start through new arrival Healy.

The 21-year-old Northern Ireland international, who arrived on loan from Manchester United on Friday before making an expected permanent move, scored his first goal for the club in the fourth minute.

A Gary Parkinson corner was flicked on by Sean Gregan to Healy who headed past United keeper Simon Tracey and into the bottom left corner.

United took time to find their feet after the early blow and went close to falling further behind, but Brian McBride and Michael Appleton both failed to hit the target from close range.

The visitors doubled their lead after 20 minutes when a Lee Cartwright cross was met by Rankine.

The midfielder flung himself at the ball to head into the bottom right corner for his fifth goal of the season.

Ford penalty

But nine minutes later the Blades pulled a goal back when Kelly was brought down by Parkinson to hand the home side their third penalty in four games.

Ford calmly stepped up to convert the spot-kick.

Minutes before the half-time whistle the Blades went close to scoring the equaliser through Michael Brown.

The midfielder cut inside the Preston defence before unleashing a fierce drive which was heading for the bottom left corner, only for keeper David Lucas to pull off a brilliant one-handed save.

United almost levelled when a Paul Devlin corner was met by the head of Shaun Murphy.

The ball fell to Ford, whose first-time volley skimmed off Preston's right hand post.

The Blades continued to press and eventually secured the equaliser on 70 minutes.

Vital substitution

Devlin was again involved with a cross which skimmed off the head of Ryan Kidd and over Lucas to leave Kelly with an easy finish from two yards out.

Preston were rocked by the equaliser and failed to create too many chances in the second half.

The decisive appearance of Thomas on 77 minutes proved to be a crucial change by United manager Neil Warnock.

The 21-year-old had only been on the field for four minutes before netting the Blades' winner.

A long ball from Devlin was met by Thomas who squeezed in between two Preston defenders to leave himself with only Lucas to beat.

The on-loan striker from Blackburn calmly slotted the ball past the helpless Lucas, much to the delight of Warnock.

Preston had a chance to go away with a point but McBride again headed wide from eight yards.


Sheff Utd: Tracey, Kozluk, Woodhouse, Uhlenbeek, Murphy, Michael Brown, Santos, Ford, Devlin, Suffo, Kelly.
Subs: Quinn, Thomas, Jagielka, Montgomery, Doane.

Preston: Lucas, Edwards, Jackson, Gregan, Rankine, Appleton, McKenna, Cartwright, Parkinson, Healy, McBride.
Subs: Robinson, Barry-Murphy, Kidd, Moilanen, Anderson.

Referee: R Olivier (Sutton Coldfield).

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