Pressure on Scolari mounts
Left scratching his head (Gallo Images)
London - Luiz Felipe Scolari is under mounting pressure at Chelsea after his side were held to a dismal 0-0 draw by Hull on Saturday.
The Brazilian was subjected to jeers from the Stamford Bridge crowd, who were angered at seeing their side deliver yet another alarmingly uninspired performance on home soil, but perhaps they should have been grateful for the point.
If either side deserved to depart here with regrets, it was Hull. The Humbersiders might have arrived in west London having failed to win in the league since 6 December, but they more than matched their illustrious hosts and, with sharper finishing, would have notched a famous victory.
Chelsea's hopes of remaining competitive in this season's title race, meanwhile, look increasingly desperate. They are now two points adrift of third-placed Aston Villa and will fall within range of fifth-placed Arsenal if the latter win at Tottenham on Sunday.
This performance matched last weekend's meek defeat at Liverpool for ineptitude and Scolari must wonder how he can inspire a revival.
Ricardo Queresma, debuting after signing on loan from Internazionale, did little to suggest he is the missing ingredient and much of the home side's play was predictable.
An early goal would have settled Chelsea's nerves but Scolari's side is painfully devoid of cutting edge. The point was highlighted by a dreadful second-minute miss from John Terry, who had merely to lift the ball into the unguarded net from six yards after Frank Lampard's inswinging free-kick had been spilled by Matt Duke. Instead he spooned over the crossbar.
That set the tone for a typically toothless first half from Chelsea. True, there were moments of sheer bad fortune - as in the 19th minute when Queresma's fine curling shot was tipped aside by Duke - but for the most part the hosts were wasteful.
Alex might have done better than head over from Lampard's 22nd-minute corner, while a midfielder of Michael Ballack's quality should have hit the target with a 20-yard free-kick, instead of skimming the side-netting.
Throw in a handful of heroic blocks from Hull defenders and Chelsea's frustration as they trooped off for the interval was understandable.
That said, it might have been worse. Hull were largely in containment mode but they did cause the odd flutter of anxiety: Geovanni screamed an instinctive volley fractionally over from 25 yards, while Kevin Kilbane was unfortunate to see a thunderous header kiss the post.
Hull took heart from those near misses and continued to impress with their neat, incisive football. Only their finishing remained awry: Craig Fagan, for instance, had a gilt-edged chance to fire his side ahead in the 53rd minute when he beat John Mikel Obi to a loose ball and sprinted clear.
The 26-year-old spotted Hilario off his line but chipped tamely into the goalkeeper's hands.
As the seconds ticked past, so Chelsea's patience was stretched to breaking point. Didier Drogba was deployed from the bench just past the hour - although Scolari's decision to take off Queresma was greeted with chants of "You don't know what you're doing" by sections of the home support - but still Hull looked the more likely scorers.
Stamford Bridge held its breath when Geovanni's clever pass found Marney in yards of space in the area but the former Tottenham winger could only drag his low shot past the right-hand post.
There was not even a grandstand finish from Chelsea, who by the end were doing little more than firing hopeful long balls into the Hull area, praying for a break. They might have had one when Andy Dawson appeared to handle Kalou's shot in the area, only for referee Lee Mason to wave play on, while the Ivorian shot later straight Duke after a rare slip from the City defence.
There was still time for Hull to carve out one more chance, Fagan slipping the leash and bearing down on goal, only for Terry to save his side with a last-ditch tackle. It was more than Chelsea deserved.