PRESTON // It might be his first season in English football, but Carlo Ancelotti has already become something of a nemesis to the Ferguson family. Ancelotti's Chelsea overcame Sir Alex's Manchester United in the Community Shield and then the Premier League in November. Yesterday, it was another Ferguson's turn to lose to the London club. Like his father, Darren Ferguson tasted defeat as Ancelotti's side were too strong and too stylish at Deepdale in the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Nicolas Anelka and Daniel Sturridge got the goals, but Chelsea were efficient as a unit. Ray Wilkins, the assistant manager, said: "It was a very professional performance from our side. It isn't easy to come here and Preston put us under pressure at times. "But the intention to put out a strong outfit shows how much we think of the FA Cup. We are the holders and we want to retain it." The contest was effectively over once Anelka opened the scoring in the 37th minute. The build-up was swift, the execution clinical.
It started with a timely challenge by Yuri Zhirkov on Chris Sedgwick on the edge of his own box. Deco launched a counter-attack as he released Michael Ballack, who in turn found Anelka, whose shot was too powerful for Andy Lonergan to keep out. With Didier Drogba in Africa, Anelka has taken on greater responsibility up front and thrived. This was his fifth goal in four games and Wilkins added: "He's playing some outstanding football. He's a joy to have around the place. He works extremely hard and he's getting his rewards. He looks an outstanding player at the moment."
Two minutes after the break, Anelka's strike partner Sturridge slotted home after John Terry's powerful header was pushed out by Lonergan. But for the Preston keeper, Chelsea could have had more. The withdrawals of Frank Lampard (calf) and Belletti (knee) gave Ancelotti more concern. Only Barnsley have beaten Chelsea in this competition since 2006, and it will take a very good side to repeat that feat.
The home side's only highlight came in the 40th minute when Chris Brown forced the Chelsea goalkeeper Hilario into a save and Darren Carter lunged at the loose ball from three yards out. It sailed up and over. Ferguson said: "It's one of those things that can happen. If that goes in, you are level at half-time, but then the second goal killed the game." With United already out, the result ended the Ferguson family's aspirations in the FA Cup for this season.
The Preston manager now has a fight to keep hold of his Ireland defender Sean St Ledger. "Celtic have inquired, but have no chance of getting him on what they are offering," he stated. email@example.com