PRESTON, England (AFP) - Chelsea remain on course for their third FA Cup triumph in four seasons after a 2-0 victory at Preston on Saturday secured their place in the last 16 of the competition.
Nicolas Anelka's 11th goal of the season set Carlo Ancelotti's team on their way before Daniel Sturridge added the second, the 20-year-old's third goal in his last two games.
It was the perfect response after Carlo Ancelotti's side had lost their place at the top of the Premier League table in midweek.
Yet the outcome might have been different had Preston midfielder Darren Carter not spurned a glorious chance from three-yards when the score was 1-0.
Chelsea are looking to become the first team to defend the FA Cup since Arsenal mounted a successful defence of the competition in 2003.
Ancelotti took the unusual step of revealing his starting line-up on the eve of the tie, the Italian opting to make six changes to the side which hammered Sunderland 7-2 last Saturday.
Portuguese keeper Hilario and Sturridge were among those handed a rare start although key players Frank Lampard, John Terry and Nicolas Anelka were also on duty against the Championship club.
Preston are languishing in the bottom half of the second tier after losing their last three league games.
Yet the hosts gave as good as they got in the opening exchanges, Chris Brown causing panic inside the Chelsea defence after getting on the end of Chris Sedgwick's eighth minute cross.
Chelsea, who thrashed Preston's league rivals Watford 5-0 in the previous round, took a while to get into their stride.
Keeper Andy Lonergan did well to deny Russian midfielder Yury Zhirkov in the 16th minute before Chelsea had a goal disallowed in controversial circumstances.
Moments after Lampard had been fouled on the edge of the area, substitute Florent Malouda had the ball in the back of the net only for referee Mike Dean to rule it out and award Chelsea a free kick for the illegal challenge on their midfielder.
Chelsea were beginning to build some momentum, Lonergan beating away a fiercely struck free-kick by Alex before Anelka found the vital breakthrough in the 36th minute.
The former Manchester City and Arsenal forward made it five goals in four games following an excellent low finish from an angle after getting the better of Youl Mawene, defender Sean St Ledger blocking the view of his keeper and deflecting the ball into the net.
Yet despair doubled four minutes later when they spurned a glorious chance to equalise, Carter slicing the loose ball over the bar after Hilario parried Brown's strong header.
It was a stunning miss and one that ultimately proved Preston's downfall as Chelsea doubled their advantage within three minutes of the restart.
A corner by Malouda was met by Terry whose header was kept out by Lonergan. However, the rebound fell to Sturridge who made no mistake from close range.
To their credit, Preston continued to battle but Chelsea should have won by a more handsome margin.
Michael Ballack was denied by a fine Lonergan save while Lampard also went close before the England midfielder was replaced by Joe Cole.
Deco, who has appeared on an infrequent basis under Ancelotti, bossed the midfield well as Chelsea produced a professional performance.
Sturridge was unfortunate not to add his second goal when his fierce 20-yard effort whistled narrowly wide in the 72nd minute.
|S. St. Ledger|
|Coach: D. Ferguson|
|Football League Wrap: Tranmere defeated, Chesterfield move top of League Two|
|Serie A Preview: Inter v Milan|
|Bundesliga: Frankfurt 1 Augsburg 1|
|Ligue 1: Monaco 1 Valenciennes 2|
|La Liga: Elche 0 Malaga 1|
|Eredivisie: RKC Waalwijk 1 Twente 1|
|La Liga Preview: Getafe v Barcelona|
|Ligue 1 Preview: Paris Saint-Germain v Lille|
|UAE Pro League Wrap: Al Ahli extend lead, Al Shaab earn rare win|
|Lambert seeks more Villa away success|
|Sunderland will have ´no excuses´ for Norwich failure, says Poyet|
|Hughton hails Poyet impact|
|Pardew anticipating difficult Palace clash|
|UEFA provisionally ban three clubs from European competition|
|La Liga Preview: Valencia v Real Madrid|
|Valdes to keep new club quiet|
|Allardyce urges West Ham to expose United frailties|
|Bruce bemoans Brady injury|
|Laudrup rules out Tottenham switch|
|Premier League Preview: Swansea City v Everton|
|Benitez is ´a lucky charm´, says De Laurentiis|
|Stoke wait on Shawcross fitness|
|Koscielny to miss out on Chelsea clash|
|Liverpool owner hails Suarez deal as sign of club´s progress|
|Moyes reveals Nani setback|
|Schweinsteiger to return in January|
|Thohir not worried ahead of derby|
|Mourinho eyes defensive improvements|
|Pellegrini optimistic on Zabaleta return|
|Gourcuff reveals contract refusal|
|Suarez pens new long-term Liverpool deal|
|Klopp predicts tough Hertha battle|
|Dempsey has medical ahead of Fulham return|
|Bruce sympathetic to Mackay situation|
|A-League: Brisbane Roar 0 Newcastle Jets 2|
|Celtic´s Lustig set to miss four months|
|Messi blasts Barca official|
|Redknapp slams Villas-Boas´ signings|
|Atalanta out to continue home record|
|Phillips poised for January Palace exit|
|Dembele: Spurs ´positive´ about Sherwood appointment|
|Benitez predicts busy January at Napoli|
|Kerslake expects Mackay to be in charge for Liverpool game|
|Lowe given Glory role|
|Baines set for Everton return|
|Pedro keen on emulating Iniesta|
|Pochettino not interested in January purchases|
|Poyet calls for mid-season break|
|Iajour up for Bayern test|
|Martinez seeking ´short-term solutions´ in transfer window|
|Kompany urges City to remain focused|
|Rodgers glad he avoided Tottenham|
|Del Piero in line to take on Juventus in Australia|
|Copa del Rey Wrap: Valencia scrape through, Bilbao thrash Celta|
|Primeira Liga: Maritimo 2 Braga 2|
|Galliani to stay at Milan|
|Klopp plays down Club World Cup|
|Schalke coach Keller not fearing the sack|
|Wilshere loses appeal against two-match ban|
|Zaha on Pardew´s radar|
|Milan will be my final club, says Abbiati|
|Anigo to remain at Marseille helm for time being|
|Premier League Preview: West Brom v Hull City|
|No Bankia involvement in Bale deal, says Perez|
|Galliani wants stronger Milan youth system|
|Rafinha extends Bayern contract|
|Premier League Preview: Stoke City v Aston Villa|
|Poyet: No excuse not to perform|
|Vanishing spray to be used at World Cup|
|Gabbidon praises Palace strike pair|
|Premier League Preview: Manchester United v West Ham|
|Hughton calls for Norwich City to show character|
|Premier League Preview: Fulham v Manchester City|
|Samaras attracting Lazio interest|
|Premier League Preview: Liverpool v Cardiff City|
|Rodgers backs Mackay at Cardiff|
|Foster back fit and raring for West Brom recall|
|De Boer agent denies Tottenham contact|
|Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace v Newcastle United|
|Hungary appoint Pinter as new coach|
|Iniesta signs new Barca contract|
|Rodgers coy over Suarez talks|
|Jagielka hopes for fresh faces at Everton to help top-four push|
|A-League: Central Coast 1 Wellington 0|
|Spain end top of FIFA rankings for sixth year running|
|Allardyce disappointed to draw Manchester City|
|Pascoe hails ´unbelievable´ Suarez|
|Vorm knee surgery brought forward|
|Blanc hails Cavani brace|
|Michu wants Aspas to join Swansea City|
|Hoeness plays down Bayern treble suggestions|
|Dzeko confident he can fill Aguero void|
|Moyes: No loan offers for Zaha|
|Kiessling calls for Leverkusen response|
|Matuidi: Cavani on par with Ibrahimovic|
|Yeboah set to join Borussia Monchengladbach|
|Rooney a ´chance´ to face West Ham|
|FIFA Club World Cup Preview: Bayern Munich v Raja Casablanca|
|Benzarti praises ´extremely talented´ Raja Casablanca|
|Ranieri unsure over Falcao return|
|Coupe de La Ligue Wrap: Cavani leads PSG to dramatic win|
|Copa del Rey Wrap: Real Madrid through as Sevilla crash out|