Chelsea: given up yet race title

Chelsea assistant manager Ray Wilkins admits his side’s title hopes are receding after the Blues were held to a surprise 0-0 draw at home to Hull. The west Londoners were jeered off after an insipid performance against the Humbersiders on Saturday, who contained their illustrious hosts with ease and produced several clear-cut chances of their own. Chelsea could fall 11 points behind the leaders Manchester United if the reigning champions win their two games in hand and manager Luiz Felipe Scolari may even start casting anxious glances over his shoulder towards fifth-placed Arsenal unless he can arrest his side’s current slump in form.

This dismal display against a side who have not tasted victory in the English Premier League since December added to the gloom created by last weekend’s tame defeat at Liverpool, and sections of the Stamford Bridge support turned on the Brazilian World Cup winner as his side laboured in the second half.

Scolari’s decision to replace debutant Ricardo Quaresma just after the hour provoked chants of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ from the Matthew Harding Stand and the 61-year-old gave anther hint that he is struggling to cope with the pressure of fulfilling Chelsea’s grand ambitions by refusing to attend the post-match press conference. Instead, it was Wilkins who was left to explain this latest sorry display and the former England mdfielder did not attempt to disguise the size of the task that faces Chelsea in the final three months of the season.

‘At the moment, it will be very difficult to catch Manchester United, with the way they’re playing,’ he said. ‘We will try to catch them but they have games in hand on us and they’re quite a few points in front of us as well, so it will be hard. ‘There is pressure, of course, but there always is pressure when you’re at a club as big as Chelsea. Second is never good enough for Chelsea because over the last few seasons, we’ve been a power in the Premier League. We strive to be number one and we would never say that second is good enough. ‘That’s why we’re not giving up on the title - you can’t when you have the kind of talent in our squad. We’ll keep going until it’s mathematically impossible to catch United.’

Wilkins also issued a withering assessment of the supporters who turned on Scolari after their side proved unable to pierce Hull’s exceptional defence. ‘It’s never pleasant to hear that kind of thing,’ he added. ‘It’s pretty evident that Luiz does know what he’s doing: he’s been in the game a hell of a long time and won an awful lot of trophies. ‘It’s unnecessary and it shouldn’t be heard around our stadia. It’s their prerogative to boo if they want to because they pay their money. But to say that someone doesn’t know what they’re doing, when they’ve achieved so much in the game, is a tad out of order.’

The criticism heaped on Scolari might have been yet more venomous had Craig Fagan taken one of two good second-half chances or Dean Marney’s low shot across goal sneaked inside the post rather than just out. Chelsea produced precious little in response, although Wilkins was justified in claiming that the afternoon might have boasted a very different narrative had John Terry not spooned haplessly over the crossbar in just the second minute. That weakness means that most teams visiting the Londoners now do so in the belief they can score.

Phil Brown, the Hull manager, was understandably proud of his players’ efforts, which - if replicated during the remainder of the season - should see them escape relegation with something to spare. ‘If we keep showing that mentality then we will be okay,’ he said. ‘The work rate was phenomenal and, as manager of this side, I’m very proud to have come here and got a point. ‘We didn’t put men behind the ball or park the bus in front of the goal, we played a bit.’

And for Hull City - heading south on the back of a miserable run that has brought just one win in 15 league matches - belief is something that has been in short supply of late. So good was their start to the campaign that they dropped out of the top half of the table for only the first time this season last weekend after a home draw with basement club West Bromwich Albion. Manager Phil Brown hasn’t had much more luck in the transfer market after narrowly missing out on AS Roma’s Christian Panucci and seeing new five million pounds signing Jimmy Bullard quickly crocked by a knee injury. Striker Daniel Cousin has also been ruled out for ten days after undergoing surgery and the only upbeat note for Brown has been struck by the support of his chairman Paul Duffen in the face of unexpected criticism from some of the club’s supporters. Even that, though, confounded the manager who said: "I like to fight my own fights, put it that way."

(source:, thetimes)


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