Chelsea spearhead London's challenge

Chelsea 3 Preston North End 1
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No one knows if the FA Cup final will ever come back to Wembley but the capital's footballers are doing their best to ensure the trophy, at least, makes a return to London.

Yesterday Chelsea and Tottenham joined Fulham and Arsenal in the last eight, all four completing ultimately comfortable victories over lower league opposition. Chelsea, drawn at Spurs in the only all-London tie, were, however, notably flattered by their success against a Preston side which were a fingertip away from a replay.

The digits belonged to Carlo Cudicini who, having kept them in this fifth round tie after Preston took a shock lead, denied the Nationwide League side an equaliser in the last minute. Cruelly Chelsea then raced upfield and Mikael Forssell gave the result an undeserved gloss.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was Cudicini's co-star. After Richard Cresswell had put Preston ahead he laid on Eidur Gudjohnsen's equaliser before scoring himself. A threat throughout, he was, admitted David Moyes, "the difference".

"At this level you have to take your chances," added the Preston manager. Jon Macken, the man twice denied by Cudicini, said: "They were clinical and we missed a few."

Only the East Stand remained from Preston's last visit to the Bridge, more than two decades ago, but the swathes of empty seats in the new West Stand, and plenty elsewhere, suggested Ken Bates' fractious but undeniably impressive Chelsea revolution is losing momentum. Perhaps he might like to re-consider his pricing policy. While Arsenal sold out for Saturday's visit of Gillingham, Chelsea had 14,000 empty seats yesterday for opposition of a similar standard and appeal (North End are less local, but more famous).

Satellite television coverage will have been a factor but a lowest adult ticket price of £26 must have been another. Less than a month before the Premiership visits of Fulham and Tottenham, tickets ­ minimum £31 for adults ­ remain available.

Bates will justly argue that if supporters want to see the best they have to pay for it and Chelsea lack Manchester United's capacity and global reach. Yet even Chelsea's massive wage bill has its limitations and, yesterday, injuries, suspensions, and the cold-shouldering of Winston Bogarde meant Claudio Ranieri was forced to play two midfielders in defence. Emmanuel Petit, after a slow start, settled well to the role of central defender but Mario Stanic was out of place at right-back. Before half-time Graeme Le Saux had been moved from wide-left midfield to replace him.

Poor defending had left Chelsea in arrears after just eight minutes. Stanic gave away a free-kick on the edge of the box. Cresswell then escaped Celestine Babayaro to glance in Graham Alexander's cross. Three minutes later Lee Cartwright escaped down the right after a quick free-kick but Cudicini made a sharp save from Macken's shot.

It was an expensive miss, for Chelsea settled and their front pair came into the game. Teuvo Moilanen twice had to rush from his goal to deny Hasselbaink and Gudjohnsen served warning with a shot across his goal. They would not be denied and, after Sam Dalla Bona released Hasselbaink, Gudjohnsen tapped in the equaliser.

Ten minutes later, during which time Petit had cleared Macken's chip off the line, Hasselbaink played a one-two with his Icelandic sidekick and drilled home his 24th of the season. The strike brought the partnership's tally to 42.

After Moilanen saved at the feet of Frank Lampard, Preston regained their early composure. The neat passing encouraged by Moyes was in evidence and Cartwright might have had a penalty when tugged by Petit.

With Chelsea's back four further discomfited by an injury to Marcel Desailly, Stanic was again press-ganged into defensive service, this time alongside Petit. He was soon booked for dissent after giving away a free-kick. What looked a good chance proved an illusion as Paul McKenna drove wide. At the other end, a Hasselbaink free-kick was parried by Moilanen as Chelsea struggled.

The game stagnated but Preston had one more shot in their locker. With a minute left Cresswell broke down the left and crossed for Macken to head goalwards, only for Cudicini to again deny him. "I thought it was in but he made a great save," Macken said. "Without that we would be in a replay," added Petit.

Moilanen joined the fray for the corner but could only volley the ball in the air. When it came down Le Saux found Forssell and, while Preston's defence delayed the Finn long enough for the keeper to get back, it made no difference. The last time Preston were drawn here in the FA Cup, in 1969, the game was abandoned after the floodlights failed. This time only the visitors were left in the dark.

Goals: Cresswell (8) 0-1; Gudjohnsen (15) 1-1; Hasselbaink (24) 2-1; Forssell (90) 3-1.

Chelsea (4-4-2): Cudicini; Stanic, Desailly (Morris, 69), Petit, Babayaro; Zola (Keenan, 85), Lampard, Dalla Bona, Le Saux; Hasselbaink, Gudjohnsen (Forssell, 75). Substitutes not used: De Goey (gk), Jokanovic.

Preston North End (4-4-2): Moilanen; Alexander, Lucketti, Gregan, Edwards; Cartwright (Gudjonsson, 81), McKenna, Keane, Anderson (Healy, 64); Macken, Cresswell. Substitutes not used: Lucas (gk), Eaton, Skora.

Referee: R Styles (Waterlooville).

Bookings: Chelsea: Hasselbaink, Stanic, Petit. Preston North End: Cresswell, Gregan.

Men of the match: Hasselbaink and Cudicini.

Attendance: 28,133.