"Beast!" hissed the home crowd, respectfully, as the portly Jon Parkin was sent on to chase a two-goal deficit for the last half hour. "You fat bastard!" bellowed the Chelsea fans in the Bill Shankly end.
Not particularly romantic, granted, but you cannot make a fairytale out of every FA Cup mismatch. At least Darren Ferguson's second defeat in his short period in charge of Preston was nowhere near as grim as the DVD of Chelsea's 7-2 thrashing of Sunderland with which he has been torturing himself all week, and after taking on a virtually full-strength Chelsea team in his first home game the new manager's task can only get easier.
"Carlo wants to take the FA Cup seriously, and that's why we put out such a strong outfit," Chelsea's assistant manager, Ray Wilkins, said. "We are the holders, we value the competition and we want to hang on to the trophy."
Defensively, Preston just about held up, though once Chelsea made certain of victory with a second goal at the start of the second half a certain amount of urgency left their game. It was the lack of attacking verve that flattened the cup-tie atmosphere. Ferguson has taken over a solid Championship side, but not one equipped to deliver upsets against teams like Chelsea.
"We had chances, I thought my lads did fine," Ferguson said. "If we could have just turned round level, and we missed a good chance to do just that, it might have been a different game, but Chelsea are full of world-class players and they can strike at any time."
Ironically, after doing most of the probing and attacking in the first half, Chelsea broke through when the home side gave them a rare opportunity to break on the counter. Chris Sedgwick had the ball pinched off his toes on the edge of the Chelsea area by Yuri Zhirkov, Michael Ballack brought it forward and played in Nicolas Anelka, who beat Andy Lonergan with a low shot.
Darren Carter's follow up to a rebound from Chris Brown's header should have brought Preston level but the striker shinned his effort over.
That was to be Preston's only chance of getting back on terms because Chelsea scored to seal victory two minutes into the second half. Daniel Sturridge pounced on a rebound from a John Terry header for his third FA Cup goal of the season.