Chelsea boss Avram Grant refused to concede defeat to Manchester United in the English Premier League title race, insisting his players still believed they could win it.
He admitted the Blues simply had to win Thursday’s clash at fifth-placed Everton, otherwise United could seal the title in the most devastating way — by winning at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge home on April 26.
The Blues are five points behind the Red Devils with four games remaining, having blown their chance to reduce the gap to three points on Monday.
They drew 1-1 with visitors Wigan Athletic, an injury-time equaliser by the Latics’ Emile Heskey dealing a huge blow to Chelsea’s hopes of reclaiming the title from United.
”We are still in the title race. It is more difficult now but we will still fight away,” Grant vowed.
”Of course they [Chelsea’s players] believe and they don’t stop. Anyway, we need to win the game against Everton and against Manchester United, and anyway, we still need a bad result from United.
”It didn’t change so much but we will keep on fighting.
”Our problem this year is we don’t use the chances. I don’t know why, maybe it is a lack of concentration,” he added.
Grant admitted Chelsea had to beat the Toffees at Goodison Park to keep their title dreams going.
”Yes. I think if not, it will be very difficult,” he said.
The clash with Everton was brought forward by the Premier League schedulers, meaning Chelsea face two title run-in matches in four days.
Grant said: ”It’s not easy, especially at the end of the season. But this is the decision. We are used to it. We will do our best. I didn’t like the decision.”
With this in mind, he made seven changes to his starting line-up for the Wigan game, with only two of them forced.
The former Israel boss was unable to say whether striker Didier Drogba or England midfielder Frank Lampard would be available for Thursday’s journey to the city of Liverpool.
Drogba faces a scan on an injured knee, while Lampard pulled out of the Wigan game, rushing from the ground for family reasons.
”It is a personal matter with Frank and I would prefer to leave it at that,” said Grant.
”The players were a bit in shock because one of our best players had to leave the team at the last moment, which is understandable.”
He defended switching the side around.
”I do it all the time,” the Israeli said. ”We are at the end of the season and you need to keep players fresh.
”We have a big squad and it is not the first time we have played with this team.”
Asked how the Wigan result would have been received by Manchester United, he replied: ”I can imagine.”
Heskey’s shock equaliser crowned his 400th top-flight appearance.
The 30-year-old former England striker shook off his marker to volley in a left-wing cross from substitute midfielder Jason Koumas.
The Blues’ Ghana midfielder, Michael Essien, looked to have sealed victory with a 55th-minute shot from the edge of the penalty area, following Nicolas Anelka’s lay-off.
Wigan remain in 15th place, six points clear of the relegation zone with four matches left.
Latics boss and former Manchester United captain Steve Bruce said he was more thrilled by earning a point at Stamford Bridge than handing a hefty advantage to his old club.
”There’s a few friends in Manchester who will be absolutely delighted but I’m more pleased for our supporters and our players,” he said.
He said Red Devils manager Alex Ferguson had sent him a text message before the Chelsea match.
”He’s phoned me four times in four months: twice before we played Arsenal and twice before we played Chelsea. He hasn’t phoned me at any other time,” the laughing Bruce said.
But he declined to say whether United would win the title.
”They’ll obviously be pleased, they’ve got a helping hand, but there’s still a bit to play for,” he said.
”Is there another twist? Manchester United have still got to play at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have got an horrific game at Everton, that’s not going to be easy.
”That they play on Thursday again is absolutely ridiculous when you’re going for a league title, that’s not right.” Bruce tipped the muscular veteran Heskey to get an England recall.
”I’d be amazed if he didn’t,” the former defender said.
”He is the best English centre-forward of his type. He can lead the line so well. Of course, he’s not a prolific goal scorer, but he gives you something with his pace and his power and also his technique.
”He’s the perfect foil for a Michael Owen or a Wayne Rooney. I would have thought, with the lack of English centre-forwards about, he’s got to have an outstanding chance.” — Sapa-AFP