Chelsea to clash with Hull

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Chelsea starts its defense of the League Cup title on Wednesday needing a convincing victory over Hull.

Updated: September 27, 2007 18:27 IST
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Chelsea starts its defense of the League Cup title on Wednesday needing a convincing victory over Hull to stop its season from lurching even further into crisis.

The Blues were already winless in three games before parting with manager Jose Mourinho last week.

They then lost at Manchester United 2-0 in the Premier League on Sunday without mustering a single shot on goal, so victory at the League Championship team on Wednesday is essential for new coach Avram Grant.

Despite another disappointing performance, Grant, who has never before coached a team outside of his native Israel, refused to blame his players.

He instead picked upon what he said were errors by the referee in the loss at United, which appears to be gaining momentum in its attempt to retain the league title and hosts Coventry in another of Wednesday's eight League Cup matches.

"The only thing we can do is to work hard to put the team in the place they deserve to be," Grant said.

With Chelsea hampered by injuries to Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, and without a win since Aug. 25, Hull will be confident of a better result than when the teams last met.

Chelsea won 6-1 at Hull in the FA Cup in 1999. Hull's fortunes have improved since that match, which was at the club's old Boothferry Park stadium. It is now installed at the 25,000-seat KC Stadium and has several players with Premier League experience.

Nick Barmby, Michael Bridges and Dean Windass both spent much of their careers in the top division, while Henrik Pedersen and recently acquired playmaker Jay Jay Okocha will be up against their former Bolton teammate Tal Ben Haim.

"It's going to be a very hard game," Ben Haim said. "We need to be ready because it's going to be difficult. We come very concentrated with a lot of desire to win the game."

Hull warmed up for the match, its biggest of the season so far, with a 1-0 League Championship loss at Sheffield Wednesday.

Tottenham also is seeking victory in England's second-tier cup competition to ease the pressure after a poor start, although Spurs have a tougher task than Chelsea when they host Premier League rival Middlesbrough.

Tottenham is in the Premier League relegation zone after one win from its opening six matches and has been dogged all season by rumors that coach Martin Jol is about to be fired or quit.

Jol is likely to field a strong side at White Hart Lane, with striker Jermain Defoe a contender for a recall after scoring two goals in last week's 6-1 UEFA Cup win over Anorthosis Famagusta. Defoe was dropped from the squad for Saturday's 1-1 draw at Bolton, but Jol needs his goals.

"It's very important to have certain players," Jol said. "Jermain scored twice against Anorthosis Famagusta and he's pushing for a place again, so that's good."

Manchester United hosts a Coventry team still struggling to replicate last season's free scoring form, but looking miserly in defense. United has conceded just three goals in nine games in all competitions.

Manager Alex Ferguson fielded backup players such as David Jones and Tomasz Kuszczak in last season's tournament and is likely to rest several regulars this time against the League Championship's eighth-place team.

In other games Wednesday, it's Aston Villa vs Leicester; Blackburn vs Birmingham; Fulham vs Bolton; Sheffield vs Everton; and West Ham vs Plymouth.

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