Chelsea got there in the end as they overcame rugged resistance from Preston to win 4-0 in FA Cup match at the Bridge

Chelsea cruised – eventually – into the fourth round of the FA Cup with a 4-0 thrashing of Preston North End at Stamford Bridge this evening, but it was a cliched game of two halves that saw the west Londoners into Monday night’s draw.

Three second-half goals in 11 minutes saw off the rugged resistance of the second-tier outfit – Armando Broja, substitute Thiago Silva and a Raheem Sterling thunder free-kick squashed any game plan out of the North West side and a VAR intervention saw the fourth tucked home by Enzo Fernandez.

But the first half was far from convincing from the Premier League side, who could not break down the deep defensive block.

Possession is one thing, but having the guile and wit in the profile of players is what’s needed to open up the best defensive sides.

This is where the Blues have struggled this season and for 45 minutes the visitors proved as good as any in perfecting the tactic.

But managing to do it for a full 90-plus minutes is another thing and the Blues came out full of confidence that they had the pace and clinical finishing to complete the job.

As expected, the visitors dug deep, so much so, one would have expected Chelsea players to be wearing canaries on their shirts.

But it did allow players like Alfie Gilchrist, who was making his full Chelsea debut, the chance to see lots of the ball, which he distributed efficiently and effectively.

Preston, sitting comfortably in mid-table in the Championship, having lost more games than they have won, 11 to 10, blocked spaces in their final third so well that it left the Blues, certainly in the opening phase of the game, to be in a keep-ball scenario, rather than an attacking one.

But they were the first to have an effort on goal after 18 minutes but Will Keane’s shot was weak and did not trouble Djordje Petrovic.

Sterling was first to get a shot on target for the Blues, it was more powerful than Keane’s, but Freddie Woodman parried it over his crossbar for a corner.

Cole Palmer should have opened the score on 22 minutes, when he latched on to a fine ball. He was one-on-one with Woodman. He opted to clip a little chip past the stopper, but the ball inched wide of the goal.

Milutin Osmajic broke through the Chelsea rearguard on 27 minutes after Levi Colwill misjudged the flight of the ball, but all he could do was get a shot away which, again, Petrovic handled well.

As the half wore on, Chelsea allowed the visitors more of the ball. This resulted with their defence coming under more pressure, but the plan was to open up the spaces for a counter-attack – which to be fair, were few and far between.

There were no changes by either side at half-time.

The game resumed as it started – Chelsea in possession, getting close to the Preston penalty area, but getting no further.

But as soon as they managed to get a ball into the box, and they did on 58 minutes, a whipped inswinger from Malo Gusto to Armando Broja they looked dangerous.

And on this occasion, the striker, who up to that point was a passenger, managed to get his head to the ball and glance it wide of the despairing dive of Woodman to put the Blues 1-0 up.

He should have repeated the goal, a minute later, but this time glanced the ball wide.

Off came Gilchrist and ineffectual Mykhailo Mudryk for Thiago Silva and Noni Madueke as head coach Mauricio Pochettino looked to cement a ragged-looking back four and restore some natural balance to it.

While Silva was expected to defend, it’s a bonus when he goes up for set-pieces.

And from an excellent Palmer corner, the 39-year-old Brazil centre-back walloped home a header to put the Blues 2-0 up.

Sterling must have spent some of his training time practising free-kicks because on 69 minutes he produced a classic ‘Beckham’ right-footed curler that arrowed past Woodman to send the game clear of any Preston resistance.

A goal-line clearance by Liam Lindsay denied Broja his second on 71 minutes as the Blues smelled a goal-fest.

This luxury scoreline allowed Pochettino to bring on striker Deivid, 18 and midfielder Conor Gallagher – off went Broja and Palmer.

After two and a half minutes of VAR deliberations, an excellent move by the Blues saw Enzo free on the left and he tucked up.

Was he offside?  The linesman thought so. But VAR opted to check and ruled in the Argentinian’s favour.

It was the World Cup winner’s last touch of the ball as 17-year-old Michael Golding from Kingston upon Thames replaced him for his debut.

The midfielder almost scored with bis first touch but Woodman snaffled his effort.

Eight minutes were added to the game, but the players from both sides were happy to see the game out.

The fans from both sides also were happy – with the visiting ones completely in support of their team.

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