PRESTON, England, Jan 24, 2010 (AFP) - France striker Nicolas Anelka took the plaudits after his goal inspired a 2-0 win at Preston kept Chelsea on course to land the FA Cup for the third time in four seasons.
Anelka set the platform for the Premier League club's fourth round success at Deepdale on Saturday with his fifth goal in four games.
|Nicolas Anelka (2nd L) celebrates scoring the opening goal during the FA Cup fourth round football match between Preston North End and Chelsea at Deepdale Stadium, Preston, England, on January 23, 2010. AFP PHOTO|
Young strike partner Daniel Sturridge doubled the holders' lead in the second half as Carlo Ancelotti's team saw off Darren Ferguson's Championship outfit.
But it was Anelka's performance which caught the eye of Chelsea assistant manager Ray Wilkins and he was keen to salute the former Arsenal and Real Madrid star.
"He's playing some outstanding football at the minute," Wilkins said. "He's clearly enjoying his football and training.
"He's an outstanding player and hopefully he will carry in this rich vein of scoring form."
Wilkins insisted Chelsea's professional performance against Preston is proof that the west London club are determined to retain the FA Cup they won last May after beating Everton 2-1 in the final.
"I thought our lads were extremely professional," he added. "This is not an easy place to come and the Preston fans really got behind their team.
"But we are the holders and we want to retain it. This is not an easy place to come and the fact that Carlo picked a strong team shows how seriously we are treating the competition."
Wilkins refused to blame referee Mike Dean for disallowing a goal by substitute Florent Malouda when the tie was goalless.
Malouda found the net soon after coming on in the first half for the injured Juliano Belletti. With the scores locked at 0-0, the goal was ruled out as the referee had blown for a foul committed on Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard.
"In our eyes it was the wrong decision," added Wilkins. "But I'm not going to have a go at the referee. We got a free kick out of it and didn't make the most out of it."
Lampard was substituted in the second half after suffering a calf problem, but Wilkins is hopeful he will be available for Wednesday's home game with Birmingham City.
The tie might have had a different ending had Preston midfielder Darren Carter not missed from three yards towards the end of the first half, when the score was 1-0.
Ferguson, son of Manchester United manager Sir Alex, refused to criticise Carter for his astonishing blunder, which came after Portuguese keeper Hilario had failed to hold a header by Chris Brown.
"At half time I said to him to keep getting stuck in," said Ferguson, taking charge of his first home game since replacing Alan Irvine as Preston manager earlier this month.
"I didn't want him hiding in the second half. The lad needed a bit of a lift, but that's football.
"A few minutes before half time we miss a great chance and two minutes in the second half we concede a goal.
"But I can't have any complaints about my players. We played some great football."
Ferguson revealed Celtic had made an inquiry for Republic of Ireland international defender Sean St Ledger, but said: "Celtic have no chance of getting him on what they are offering."