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Chelsea manager on defensive mode

sports Updated: Jan 24, 2008 17:44 IST

AP
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The competition that supplied Avram Grant's first win as Chelsea manager has produced a cup final in his debut season.

The League Cup may be as low on Grant's list of priorities as his managerial experience at club level was last September when the dour Israeli replaced the charismatic Jose Mourinho.

But reaching a showpiece Wembley final so soon is the perfect answer to the legion of Blues fans who opposed his appointment by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

And Grant knows it.

"Look, (there were doubts) when I took the job," Grant said after Wednesday's 1-0 semifinal second leg victory over Everton. "What happened sometimes was reasonable, sometimes not, but I need to do my job and I'm concentrating on my job.

"It's not easy at this club with all the situations, but it's also a big challenge and a lot of satisfaction," he said. Like Mourinho in his first season in 2005, Grant can now win the League Cup, which would be Chelsea's third in four seasons, with victory over three-time winner Tottenham on Feb. 24. Still, don't mention the self-styled "Special One." "Do not compare me with Mourinho or any other coach," Grant said. "We will do everything to win a trophy and I believe we have played well and impressed throughout the last few months." So has Tottenham manager Juande Ramos, who also covets a trophy in his first season.

"The final will be tough. Tottenham are a very good team, but then so are Everton and we have beaten them," Grant said. "It is a big challenge at this club, and winning through to a final gives me great satisfaction."

Even after Cole sealed a 3-1 aggregate win, Grant was on defensive with reporters, fearful about how his comments could be construed.

Cole's finish from Florent Malouda's diagonal pass pierced through the Everton defense _ a rare dazzling moment on a pitch where imagination was lacking.

With Chelsea lacking ruthlessness up front, there was a tenacious approach relying on the solid back-four and goalkeeper Petr Cech in denying the opposition.

Grant supplanted Mourinho _ a Champions League winner with FC Porto before arriving at Stamford Bridge _ with managerial experience limited to Israel's low impact league and the national team.

In September, a Premier League defeat at Manchester United gave Grant an uncomfortable introduction to English management, but his side immediately bounced back to crush lowly Hull in the second-tier knockout competition.

Grant's harshest detractors were waiting for a more experienced figure to be rapidly installed. It never happened. Instead, Chelsea is third in the Premier League standings _ four points behind Manchester United and Arsenal _ while also chasing Champions League and FA Cup titles.

Grant has lost just twice in 28 games at the helm, to United and Arsenal, while coping with lengthy injuries to captain John Terry and Frank Lampard.

"I think everybody needs to respect what Chelsea's been doing in the last months," Grant said. "We won a lot of games, not just in the Premier League, but the Champions League and the Carling Cup we are now in the final."

And that was achieved without Terry, Lampard, Michael Ballack, and Andriy Shevchenko, in addition to the African Cup of Nations absentees: Salomon Kalou, Michael Essien, Didier Drogba and John Obi Mikel.