Hiddink promises title race will last 'to the bitter end'

Chelsea manager takes part in paintballing session to lift morale for the run-in
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The Independent Football

Guus Hiddink took his Chelsea players on a paintballing excursion on Monday, as he sought to build team morale for what the Dutch coach claimed yesterday would be a "fight to the bitter end" with Manchester United and Liverpool in the Premier League title race.

Chelsea's interim manager told his staff to organise the session after his team's win over Manchester City on Sunday as he seeks galvanise his squad for the run-in, starting with the game away to Tottenham on Saturday. In an interview with the Russian newspaper Sovietski Sport, Hiddink said that his side, in second place behind United in the table, faced an uphill struggle to overhaul the champions.

"That is the task we are facing but, objectively speaking, it will be extremely difficult to achieve," Hiddink said. "Don't forget that Manchester United have a game in hand and, moreover, they have a lot of experience of winning the league. All I can promise is that Chelsea will fight to the bitter end.

"You perfectly know my way – work, work and more work. That has been the principle since my first day in London. So far, so good. We started in fourth place in the Premier League [when Hiddink took over last month], now we are second. We are in the best eight clubs in Europe and each of them harbours ambitious plans. Chelsea are no exception."

Hiddink, as well as assistant Ray Wilkins, accompanied his players on their paintballing session, now something of a tradition at Chelsea. The Dutch coach is understood to have joined in himself with the players, which is a first for a Chelsea manager. The squad are back in training today, with Didier Drogba likely to sit out the session while he recovers from a knee injury.

Hiddink was expecting to come up against one of his key players for Russia, the striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, when Chelsea face Tottenham on Saturday, but the striker was demoted to play for the Spurs reserves on Monday night in their 4-0 win over Chelsea reserves. Hiddink said: "I know that he didn't play against Aston Villa [on Sunday] but I hope that he will play in the next game."

The paintballing began as a morale-building exercise under Jose Mourinho. The exercise was continued by Mourinho's successor Avram Grant. In February last year, the players went paintballing after their defeat to Tottenham in the Carling Cup final, which had been preceded by captain John Terry's training ground clash with the former coach Henk ten Cate. On that occasion Grant and Ten Cate were not invited. Mourinho also preferred to leave the paintballing to his players.