For anyone like Ray Wilkins, brought up in an English footballing family and going on to win the FA Cup at Wembley as a player and coach, the competition still has a magical quality. According to Wilkins, some of that old stardust is rubbing off on Chelsea's manager Carlo Ancelotti too.
"He's getting the hang of it," his assistant said after Saturday's victory in front of a full house at Deepdale. "It took a bit of time to get him to think about it in the manner that we do. In Italy, nobody comes to watch the cup until the latter stages. Here the ground is packed and the atmosphere is there and there's a nice little buzz about the week. We only had to show him little snippets of last year, the way the players felt about winning the cup, and he didn't take too much convincing."
There may yet come a stage in this congested season for some hard prioritising. Ancelotti has spoken from day one about Chelsea winning the Champions League for the first time; supporters are almost equally desperate to end Manchester United's recent monopoly of the Premier League, an ambition that comes sharply into focus with five league games in 15 days, starting against Birmingham on Wednesday. With that in mind, the two small disappointments on Saturday were a knee injury to Juliano Belletti, the favoured choice as holding midfielder while Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel are unavailable, and dropping down to third place in the league table – their lowest all season – after Wayne Rooney demolished Hull.
Thus did Sir Alex Ferguson extract revenge on behalf of the family clan after Chelsea condemned his son Darren to a second defeat in two games as manager of Preston. Ferguson jnr has no option but to concentrate on the league and needs to, his new club having slipped to 17th place in the Championship. He hopes to begin their revival with an emotional return tomorrow night to Peterborough, the club at which he achieved successive promotions before falling out with Barry Fry over the need for new signings. It is an argument he is more confident of winning at Preston, promising: "We want to get more quality in – we're trying to get two or three."
The defence looked solid enough, as long as Sean St Ledger, a Republic of Ireland international, can be kept out of Celtic's clutches – "they're a million miles away," Ferguson said – but greater quality in midfield and attack would be welcome.
Long crosses to Chris Brown's head caused the only disturbance to Chelsea, producing the critical opportunity that Darren Carter sliced over just before half-time. Chelsea led at that point through the consistently excellent Nicolas Anelka and they wrapped the tie up within 90 seconds of the resumption with a tap-in by Daniel Sturridge.
Belletti's injury will be assessed today but Frank Lampard, withdrawn as a precaution, should be fit for Wednesday.
"With the guys away at the African Nations, it's obviously difficult for us to compete across the competitions, because they're quality players," Wilkins said, "but I think we have the squad to do so."
Preston North End: (4-4-1-1): Lonergan; Hart, Mawene, St Ledger, Davidson; Sedgwick (Mayor, 72), Jones, Carter (Parkin, 59), Wallace; Chaplow; Brown (Mellor, 72). Substitutes not used: Henderson (gk), Collins, Chilvers, Barton. Chelsea (4-1-2-3): Hilario; Ferreira, Alex, Terry, Zhirkov; Belletti (Malouda, 19); Ballack, Lampard (J Cole, 66); Sturridge, Anelka, Deco. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Ivanovic, Matic, Borini, Van Aanholt. Referee: M Dean (Wirral). Booked: Preston: Hart. Man of the match: Anelka. Attendance: 23,119.Reuse content