Di Matteo: Chelsea are close to fourth
Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo believes the race for fourth spot in the Premier League will go to the final game of the season after their 1-1 draw against Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Di Matteo's men could have gone above fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, who lost to Norwich City earlier, had they beaten their west London rivals. But Frank Lampard's penalty, his 150th Premier League goal, on the stroke of half-time was cancelled out by Clint Dempsey's late header for Fulham.
The top three teams in the Premier League at the end of the season gain direct entry into the UEFA Champions League group stages, with the fourth-placed side set for the qualifying round. The draw left Chelsea two points behind Tottenham, their opponents in an all-London FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on Sunday.
Di Matteo, interim manager following the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas, said Chelsea's habit of conceding late goals was frustrating. They've let in 20 in the final ten minutes of games this season. "You look at it and we're closer to that fourth spot than we were," Di Matteo said as he tried to put the result against Fulham in the best possible light.
"We have to look at it positively," the Italian added. "We are closer now than we were a month ago. The biggest disappointment is that we conceded an equaliser late on. It's been a pattern this season, conceding late goals."
After the FA Cup semi-final, Chelsea face holders Barcelona in a Champions League semi-final first leg at Stamford Bridge on 18 April. Di Matteo is likely to be without Branislav Ivanovic for the Spurs game at Wembley, as he faces a misconduct charge over an off-the-ball clash with Wigan's Shaun Maloney on Saturday.
Full-back Ashley Cole could miss both matches with an ankle injury, while fellow English defender John Terry is not at full fitness after suffering cracked ribs in Chelsea's Champions League quarter-final win over Benfica. But Di Matteo added his side could cope with the strain, saying: "We've got a good squad, a squad full of good players. We will utilise them."
Fulham caused Chelsea problems throughout the first half and would have considered themselves unlucky to go in at half-time a goal down. The penalty appeared to have been given for Danny Murphy's tackle on Salomon Kalou.
Fulham had chances to equalise before United States international Dempsey's 16th goal of the season gained a point for the Cottagers. "I'm just happy to create chances and if you do that you get a goal sometimes," said Dempsey.
Meanwhile, with his side mow in the top half of the table, Fulham manager Martin Jol backed former club Tottenham to finish fourth in the table despite their 2-1 defeat by Norwich earlier on Monday. "I think Spurs will finish in the top four," said the Dutchman, who was in charge at White Hart Lane from 2004 to 2007.
"They've got all the quality, which they have shown all season, except today (Monday) when they lost to Norwich."