chelsea fail to seize gift

LONDON - Guus Hiddink admits Chelsea might have spurned their best opportunity of overhauling Manchester United in the premier league title race.

The west Londoners could have slashed United's advantage at the top of the table to a single point after Sir Alex Ferguson's side were surprisingly beaten 2-0 at Fulham on Saturday, their second defeat in as many matches.

But Chelsea failed to capitalise as they slumped to a 1-0 loss at rivals Tottenham, leaving their hopes of restoring the title to Stamford Bridge after a three-year absence in tatters.

Instead, it is Liverpool who now appear to have the best chance of making United sweat as the run-in gains pace over the coming weeks.

"We lost a huge opportunity, knowing that United were losing, it was a great chance to really change things," Hiddink said. "These are the typical days in a tough league. They are key moments. If United lose, we have to strike but we didn't do that.

"There's not just pressure on United but also ourselves and Liverpool. When you're chasing you have to win your games but to lose the goal as we did in the 10 minutes after half-time, with so many professionals and internationals, is bad for us."

Hiddink could barely contain his annoyance with his side, who were inexplicably lacklustre at White Hart Lane.

The Dutchman, who is in charge on an interim basis until the end of May, when he will return to manage the Russian national side permanently, was especially irritated by their sloppy start to the second half.

Chelsea, having been distinctly second best before the interval, compounded their woes with some flaky defending which allowed Aaron Lennon to exploit space on the right wing.

The England international's cross was met first time by Luka Modric, whose excellent low shot found the bottom corner.

Hiddink's dark mood was in stark contrast to that of Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager, whose side are suddenly eying a belated charge for seventh place, a finish which will guarantee Europa League football next season.

Redknapp could barely disguise his disdain for the UEFA Cup when he took control at White Hart Lane this season, and regularly complained that the extra fixtures placed too great a burden on his squad.

But he has attributed that attitude to Spurs' other commitments, rather than contempt for the competition itself.

"It wasn't that I disrespected the Uefa Cup - we were in a relegation battle and the League Cup final," he said. "I had to prioritise. If we had been in the top half we'd have gone for it.

"We'll go for it again this season so let's push on and try and get seventh. We need to start looking upwards as a club - our recent form demands that because it's been terrific."- Sapa-AFP