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Hiddink admits Chelsea's title hopes are over

sports Updated: Apr 23, 2009 10:35 IST

AFP
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Guus Hiddink admits Chelsea's title challenge is over after the Blues were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw by Everton.

Hiddink's side are six points behind leaders Manchester United following Wednesday's Stamford Bridge stalemate and Sir Alex Ferguson's team can extend that advantage to nine points with a victory in their game in hand.

It would take a remarkable collapse from the reigning champions for Chelsea to get back in the race and Hiddink conceded the west London club's hopes of silverware now lie with next week's Champions League semi-final first leg against Barcelona and the FA Cup final against Everton next month.

"We said before the game that the two teams chasing Man Utd must not waste any points to keep in the race. The facts are we lost two points," Hiddink said.

"We must be realistic. Maybe mathematically there is still a chance but on the other hand you cannot waste points.

"Now it is difficult. We have to focus now on only two roads in the Champions League and later against Everton in the FA Cup."

The Blues made a slow start in Wednesday's FA Cup final dress rehersal, with Australia midfielder Tim Cahill and Brazil striker Jo both bringing fine saves from Petr Cech.

They gradually improved and finished well on top but couldn't deliver the knockout blow.

John Terry lashed in a fierce shot from 35 yards which Tim Howard pushed away for a corner.

Salomon Kalou should have broken the deadlock with 15 minutes to go but he headed over from Ashley Cole's cross.

Chelsea kept going until the end and Howard made a finger-tip stop to push over Kalou's rasping drive.

There was one last chance as Didier Drogba rattled the crossbar in stoppage time but Chelsea were out of luck.

Although the English crown is almost out of Chelsea's reach for a third successive season, Hiddink insists his players' commitment couldn't be questioned, even if their rudimentary approach left something to be desired.

"You can't blame the team or say there was no desire to work but we didn't work with the intelligence to break down this well-organised wall of Everton," Hiddink said.

"We started the game well, then when you are not creating chances and don't score, sometimes we have the tendancy to try to do too much and lose our positions and patience.

"We have to maintain our positions and not try to force it. But they had some counter-attacks as well and Petr Cech made some good saves."

With the title all but gone, Saturday's trip to West Ham offers Hiddink the chance to rest some of his weary players ahead of the Barcelona clash three days later.

"We wanted to go for the title so when you drop points there is disappointment. But I think the team is able to recover from that and focus on next week's very big game," Hiddink said.

"We will have the analysis and see if any players are in the over-load zone. We have data from that. There are one or two who might have a rest.

While Chelsea lick their wounds, Everton boss David Moyes can reflect on another result that underlines his team's growing belief that they can compete with English football's big four.

Sunday's FA Cup semi-final victory over Manchester United clinched a first final appearance for 14 years and Moyes wants a top-five finish in the league to go with it.

"It means a lot to me to finish fifth. We've had three out of four top six finishes in the last four years and if we do it this year it will be four out of five," he said.

"It is a sign that Everton are becoming a side that can compete at a top level. Maybe not quite with the top boys but with what we've got it's a decent effort."