MATCH REPORT: PRESTON NORTH END 0 CHELSEA 2
Nicolas Anelka's 11th goal of the season and Daniel Sturridge's third secured a comfortable passage into the fifth round of the FA Cup.
The Frenchman's goal, scored on the break, came eight minutes before the interval while Sturridge again showed himself as a six-yard predator, making the win safe shortly after the second half began. Just before the interval, Preston spurned a great chance after Hilario had saved, but that apart moment, the clean sheet was not put under great threat.
The side that started was the one named by Ancelotti on Friday morning; the shape was a Christmas tree with Anelka and Deco playing behind Sturridge as the focal point of the attack.
It was a chilly and foggy Deepdale that welcomed the visitors for the lunchtime start but the start was solid. Hilario confidently caught two early crosses in front of the stand containing 6,000 Chelsea fans in good early voice.
However when Zhikov gave away an eighth-minute free-kick, taken quickly, it needed Terry to bravely head away Brown's dangerous header before colliding with the Portuguese keeper.
It took 15 minutes for the Blues to mount a meaningful attack but when it came, it needed a good save by Lonergan from Zhirkov after the Russian had exchanged passes with Lampard and received an exquisite ball back.
Anelka tried from distance but without power or direction before Ancelotti was forced into an early change. Belletti, who had started the game brightly, was caught in a tough challenge but played on for a while. When he could continue no longer due to injury, Malouda came on with Deco dropping deep.
Within minutes the new man on was caught late and high by Hart on the touchline to earn the game's first booking. Preston were competing hard, as if that was ever in doubt!
On 25 minutes came a spot of refereeing that almost defied belief. Lampard's ball wide had given Zhirkov a clear shooting chance but before he could pull the trigger, Mike Dean blew up for a late challenge on Lampard. Ballack's free-kick that struck the wall was no consolation for a clear opportunity taken away.
Another free-kick soon after was tapped to Alex who did beat the barrier but Lonerghan pushed it out with hands that were now stinging.
On 37 minutes, the Cup holders' superiority was rewarded when Anelka scored with a break away goal, his run after a Ballack pass ending with a low shot that Lonerghan made a poor attempt to keep out. But if you don't buy a ticket to the lottery as they say…
Preston had long been kept in their own half but did counter-attack once from a misplaced Lampard pass but played the final ball to strongly and Hilario tidied up.
On 40 minutes the home side did come close to finding the Chelsea net. Hilario made a brilliant full-stretch save to keep out centre forward Brown's header and Carter wastefully shot over on the follow-up.
The yellow-booted Ferreira, up from right-back, struck a shot just before the break that fizzed only just over.
Before Chelsea could enjoy some half-time refreshment, Terry came to the rescue after a corner escaped Hilario's grasp.
Whether Preston manager Darren Ferguson's half-time team talks follow in the family tradition and send tea cups flying is unknown, but any attempt to get his team whipped up for the restart fell flat less than two minutes in.
Chelsea won a corner which Terry headed down. It was saved on the line but Sturridge was there in the right place to smash into the net in front of the Chelsea masses. At 2-0, the tie was surely over, although Wallace soon had Hilario scrambling to reach a free-kick on 52 minutes but it went just wide.
Sturridge, now with four career FA Cup goals to his name, looked to have been pulled back by St. Ledger as he turned onto a pass inside the area but referee Dean ignored the penalty appeal.
The 20-year was given the chance to run at the defence a few minutes later but curled a shot wide and then the Preston keeper saved well from Ballack as Anelka's cross was only half-cleared.
Before that, Lampard left the field having played without freedom for several minutes. Joe Cole was on with quarter of the game to go.
Preston attempted to rally in the closing stages, bringing on corpulent striking pair Jon Parkin and Neil Mellor, but could only muster long-range punts. Anelka matched them shot-for-shot but picked out the keeper each time.
Sturridge was unlucky to bundle the ball just wide when he chased down a lost cause and Joe Cole went close to adding a third before the ref blew the weekend's first game to a close.
Our next round opponents will be drawn shortly after 6pm on Sunday.
Chelsea(4-3-2-1): Hilario; Ferreira, Alex, Terry (c), Zhirkov; Ballack, Belletti (Malouda 20), Lampard (J Cole 66); Deco, Anelka; Sturridge.
Scorers Anelka 37, Sturridge 46.
Preston (4-3-3): Lonergan; Hart, Mawene, St Ledger, Davidson (c); Chaplow, Jones, Carter (Parkin 58); Sedgewick (Mayor 73), Brown (Mellor 73), Wallace.
Booked Hart 25.