CLAUDIO RANIERI'S grip on his job as Chelsea coach was probably loosened even more yesterday as his team blew the chance to open up a six-point gap over Manchester United in the race to finish runners-up to Arsenal and clinch automatic qualification for next season's Champions League.

Just as Middlesbrough did a week ago, David Moyes' side frustrated Chelsea and held them to their second successive goalless draw at Stamford Bridge ? earning the Merseysiders a welcome point in their quest to guarantee their top-flight status.

It was hardly the warm-up Chelsea had hoped for ahead of Tuesday's Champions League semi-final, first leg, in Monaco.

And it was not the kind of performance Ranieri would have wanted when former Barcelona boss Louis van Gaal was in the stadium ? reportedly as a guest of chief executive Peter Kenyon.

With Alex Ferguson's men losing at Portsmouth in the lunchtime kick-off, Ranieri would hardly have needed to give his team a pre-match talk.

And Chelsea indeed started brightly with the England trio of Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Scott Parker working the midfield well.

Having dictated the early stages without seriously threatening goalkeeper Nigel Martyn, Chelsea eased up a little and Everton's first chance to make a mark on the game came after 12 minutes from a free kick on the right side of the box, 20 yards from goal.

Wayne Rooney curled the ball around the wall and Marco Ambrosio punched it away with both fists. After 24 minutes, Parker fed Lampard on the left side of the box and the England midfielder beat Martyn, but saw his chip come back off the bar.

Next it was the turn of Cole to drag a low shot just wide after 26 minutes, before a Chelsea corner from Geremi on the right after half an hour saw Adrian Mutu rise really well, but head over the bar.

Everton came close to scoring after 32 minutes, but were denied by good reactions from Ambrosio. Chelsea failed to clear a free-kick and when the ball fell to Rooney on the six-yard line, he drove a shot against the goalkeeper's legs.

Everton fans shouted for a penalty after 41 minutes when Robert Huth pushed Tomasz Radzinski to the ground, but referee Graham Poll was right to award a freekick the other way as the visiting striker had been holding Huth's arm.

The defender was a little too complacent a minute before the break when he allowed the ball to run back to Ambrosio. Rooney nipped in to hit an angled shot which the goalkeeper had to block with his body. The game deteriorated rapidly and the poor quality of Chelsea's finishing was highlighted after 75 minutes when Cole was so wide with an effort from the edge of the box that it ran out for a throw rather than a goal kick.

Chelsea knew it was not going to be their day when Lampard's low drive after 84 minutes hit the base of the post and Hasselbaink failed to get the rebound.

If Tuesday is their day, yesterday may cease to matter.