Spurs surge shreds Hiddink's title belief
Tottenham Hotspur 1 Chelsea 0
Monday 23 March 2009
Guus Hiddink was in no doubt. Chelsea had not just thrown away the opportunity to reduce Manchester United's lead at the top of the Premier League but also, in all probability, tossed away the slim chance they had to be Champions this season. "That's what we said before [the game]," Chelsea's interim manager emphatically declared. "Man U can lose one game and they are still in the driver's seat, but Liverpool and Chelsea are chasing and they cannot afford to drop a single point."
By that reckoning even a draw against Spurs would not have been enough to keep Chelsea in the chase for the man who, on his arrival, had declared a 10-point gap was surmountable. In the end they lost on Saturday, deservedly, a first defeat in eight matches for Hiddink who raced away after this encounter to catch a flight back to Amsterdam, to see his ailing father, and then on to Moscow to fulfil his international duties in Russia's two forthcoming World Cup qualifiers.
He had just "five minutes" with his players in the dressing room after this defeat. But it was enough. Enough for him to make his point. "Sloppy" was a recurring description at what he had witnessed. Even more damagingly he talked of a "lack of commitment" and "concentration" and implied, again, that some Chelsea players may have the talent but not the application.
Eight league games to go for Chelsea, with United having nine, and a deficit of four points. It is not insurmountable but, with a delayed kick-off, because of a suspect vehicle parked outside the stadium, meaning Chelsea knew United had lost at Fulham, what, for them, a frustrating waste.
This was a contest in which Chelsea's deficiencies, papered over since Hiddink's arrival, were exposed. They looked lacking in several key areas – from Alex, understudy to the much-missed Ricardo Carvalho in defence, through to Michael Ballack as an ineffective holding player and Nicolas Anelka, again, anonymous in attack. With Juliano Belletti on the right of a midfield three, Chelsea sorely lacked any attacking intent until Ricardo Quaresma was introduced.
That they were only denied, in a pulsating end to the match, a share of the points, or more, by two first-class saves by Heurelho Gomes said as much for their desperation as their desire. Chelsea did not so much throw the kitchen sink at Spurs as rip out all the fixtures and fittings.
For Spurs this was the sweetest of victories gained through a fine finish by the impressive Luka Modric who vied with Robbie Keane as the contest's outstanding performer. Both are intelligent, influential players who knit teams together and, even in the brief period so far since his return from Liverpool, Keane has vindicated the decision of manager Harry Redknapp to bring him back to White Hart Lane.
Understandably Redknapp lapped it up. "We've certainly got them playing," he said having now overseen draws against United and Arsenal and victories over Liverpool and Chelsea. "Let's see how far we can go and how well we can finish this year." Seventh position is a real possibility with Redknapp, rightly, saying relegation was no longer a concern.
As for the title, he was not writing Chelsea off just yet, but added: "If they had beaten us, they'd have been right in the hunt again. Today, I thought they'd be more of a threat than they were." He wasn't the only one.
Goal: Modric (50) 1-0.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Gomes; Corluka, King, Woodgate, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon (Zokora, 90), Palacios, Jenas, Modric (O'Hara, 87); Keane, Bent. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Bentley, Huddlestone, Pavlyuchenko, Dawson.
Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Bosingwa, Terry, Alex, A Cole; Ballack; Belletti (Quaresma, 61), Essien (Malouda, 76), Lampard; Anelka, Drogba. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Ivanovic, Di Santo, Kalou, Mancienne.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Spurs Palacios, Modric; Chelsea Belletti, Ballack.
Man of the match: Keane.
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