Anelka 37, Sturridge 47.
There was no FA Cup romance to be found at Deepdale yesterday, more of a speed-date. Played against the backdrop of the world’s oldest league football ground, with a crisp bite to the Lancastrian air, the gulf between Preston North End and Chelsea was simply too big.
The Cup holders opted to give a breather to Petr Cech, Ricardo Carvalho, Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic but it mattered little as two goals, either side of half-time, ensured a serene passage through to the fifth round. This was by no means a vintage performance from the Londoners who never really needed to get out of second gear. A Nicolas Anelka goal after 37 minutes was doubled just after the break by Daniel Sturridge’s third FA Cup goal of the season to conclude proceedings. New Preston boss Darren Ferguson – taking charge of his first home game – can now start his rebuilding process safe in the knowledge anyone of Chelsea’s calibre won’t be on the itinerary any time soon.
Preston started well, backed by a capacity crowd they began hurrying and harrying in an attempt to disrupt Chelsea’s rhythmic passing. Indeed the first goalmouth incident of note went the host’s way when Hilario clawed away a Chris Brown header. That early warning only saw Carlo Ancelotti’s men slowly turn the screw, monopolising possession and forcing Preston to retreat and hold firm. Despite having all of the ball, chances were scarce for the Blues who appeared content to probe and prod without much urgency. Their first chance of note ended with a fine save from Andy Lonergan following a neat Yuri Zhirkov-Frank Lampard one-two, and Lonergan had to react smartly later on to beat away a fierce Alex free-kick.
Chelsea did have the ball in the net after 25 minutes when Florent Malouda slid home Zhirkov’s cross, but referee Mike Dean had already pulled play back for a foul. Fortunately for Chelsea, and Dean, the opener wasn’t too far off, and came from a swift break when Preston for once over-committed. Zhirkov and Michael Ballack traded passes to send Anelka wheeling towards goal, and when he skipped past Youl Mawene his angled drive deflected off Sean St Ledger and through Lonergan. Right on the stroke of half-time Darren Carter had a golden opportunity to draw level but managed to stab wide a loose ball from inside the six-yard box. Any false expectations that gave the Lilywhites faithful were swiftly remedied a couple of minutes into the second half when John Terry’s header from a corner was blocked by Lonergan only for Sturridge to lash in the rebound from a couple of yards. That was that.
With the result assured, Chelsea eased off as the second half wound down. The excellent Lonergan denied Ballack and Joe Cole with smart saves whilst substitute Jon Parkin tested Hilario and curled another shot wide as Preston sought a consolation goal. So, job done for Chelsea as they continue their defence of the cup, job only starting for Ferguson Jnr.