Sunday 30 April 2017

Guus Hiddink calls off Chelsea's Champions League hunt

Bertrand Traore scored Chelsea's opener against Stoke
Bertrand Traore scored Chelsea's opener against Stoke

Guus Hiddink wrote off Chelsea's chances of reaching the top four following the 1-1 draw with Stoke.

The Blues were leading though Bertrand Traore's strike and five minutes from picking up a fourth straight win to maintain their late, late surge towards the Champions League spots.

However, a rare mistake by Thibaut Courtois gifted Mame Diouf an equaliser and left Stamford Bridge boss Hiddink admitting fourth place looks beyond them now.

"That's difficult, almost impossible," he said. "Especially when other teams are knocking on the door as well.

"Yet in December we were near the relegation zone, so get to the middle of the table and now have a beautiful March and April to look forward to with the Champions League and the FA Cup would be nice."

Chelsea's Champions League future this season rests on Wednesday night's return leg against Paris Saint-Germain, whom they trail 2-1.

Hiddink thinks Diego Costa will be fit for that clash despite sitting out against Stoke with a minor tendon problem.

Yet it was Costa's replacement in attack, 20-year-old Traore, who opened the scoring with a memorable strike on only his second Blues start.

Six minutes before the break Nemanja Matic won possession in midfield and played in Traore five yards outside the Stoke box.

Traore's initial touch took him away from goal, but with no Stoke player in a hurry to close him down he turned back inside and lashed a superb shot across Jack Butland from 20 yards.

After the break Hiddink felt Oscar should have been awarded a penalty when he was brought down by Marc Muniesa.

But Stoke secured a point in the 85th minute thanks to Diouf, who had missed two gilt-edged chances in the first half.

The normally-reliable Courtois opted to punch Xherdan Shaqiri's cross, only to direct the ball straight onto the head of Diouf - and even he could not miss this time.

"Of course it's frustrating to concede a late goal," added Hiddink.

"We scored a beautiful goal and Oscar should have had a clear penalty, that was a key moment. But we cannot say Stoke weren't pushing. In the end I think its a fair result."

Stoke manager Mark Hughes felt a point was the least his side deserved, although he still needed one slice of luck.

"I was going to take Diouf off just before he scored so it was a little bit of fortune, but we'll take that," he smiled.

"I felt we deserved at least a point, and arguably you could say we were still hard done by.

"We had two or three good opportunities in first half which we didn't convert, and lo and behold we got done by sucker punch against the run of play.

"That can sometimes deflate you, but at half-time we got the opposite reaction and the second half was more of the same."

Press Association

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