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THIAGO SILVA scored his first goal in the FA Cup and showed Chelsea’s kids how to kill off a game.

The 39-year-old Brazilian had his weekend off cut short when he was called upon to put stubborn Preston to bed in yet another unconvincing performance from Mauricio Pochettino’s young team.

Raheem Sterling grabbed the pick of the goals as Chelsea beat Preston.

Silva had been on for only five minutes when he rose to head home a Cole Palmer corner and make it 2-0 in the 66th minute.

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From then on it was a joyride all the way into the fourth round with Raheem Sterling prodding home a free kick and Enzo Fernandez tapping in to seal what on paper looks a routine win.

But as is so often the case with Chelsea at the moment it was much harder work than it needed to be until the illustrious South American performed his second-half rescue act from the bench.

And how appropriate that the club’s oldest player scored a vital goal in the world’s oldest cup competition.

Silva was supposed to be enjoying a much-needed rest for his creaking legs for the visit of Preston.

However, reshuffled Chelsea struggled to find a clinical touch against a Championship team – and not even a particularly good one at that.

North End are 14th in the second tier of English football and now with only one win in their last six games.

Their most expensive signing is reportedly Montenegro striker Mulitin Osmajic at around £2.1million.

Chelsea had £115m midfielder Moises Caicedo on parade who is probably worth more than Preston North End in its entirety.

But it still took until the 59th minute for them to find the net through striker Armando Broja and even then they did not look comfortable until Silva put the tie beyond the visitors’ reach.

Injuries and next week’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against another Championship side in Middlesbrough made for a bizarre-looking Chelsea line-up.

Academy defender Alfie Gilchrist got his first start. Malo Gusto was out of position and way out of his comfort zone as a makeshift left-back when he is more right-wing than Jacob Rees Mogg.

But the bigger worry was that it wasn’t just along Chelsea’s left flank where they were exposed time and again.

Boss Pochettino’s expensive but fragile team was getting done all over the pitch by a Championship side determined to make the most of a big day out to play with energy and confidence.

Silva’s absence was keenly felt and it must still be a concern that Pochettino had to turn to his ageing star to bring the game to a successful conclusion.

Backed by 5,500 noisy fans, Preston dominated the atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge while the team controlled the game without producing many serious threats on goal.

It was an uncomfortable ride for the first hour for Chelsea, who always look there for the taking no matter the score or the opposition.

Rewind one week when they turned a 3-0 lead with 20 minutes to go into a backs-to-the-wall finish for 3-2 at Luton.

Prior to that, it took a last-minute penalty to beat struggling Crystal Palace.

There were chances for Sterling, Fernandez and Palmer in the opening 45 minutes in which Chelsea should have taken the tie by the scruff of the neck.

But each one was squandered and petered out amid loud jeering from the packed away end as the ball either rolled wide or was dealt with by Preston keeper Freddie Woodman – godson of England boss Gareth Southgate.

Chelsea finally broke the deadlock when Gusto was at last able to turn on to his trusty right foot and pop a cross into the area. There, 6ft 5ins Broja rose to skilfully glance a header across the face of goal and into the opposite corner of the net.

When Silva came on, Chelsea returned to a more familiar shape with Gusto on his favoured right side and it was more assured from then on.

The former AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain star claimed earlier this week that he never fancied life over here because he feared it was all high balls and no Samba style.

Yet his debut goal in the FA Cup was a classic English set-piece as he dashed to the near post to head Palmer’s centre into the net at speed.

That was the death knell for game Preston who understandably crumbled.

Sterling thumped his free-kick from the edge of the box past Woodburn.

And with five minutes to go and after much VAR deliberation, midfielder Enzo Fernandez was adjudged onside when he rolled home a deflected Sterling chip.

Enzo Fernandez’s goal was allowed to stand after a long VAR check.

Chelsea made it through to round four for the 25th time in 26 seasons.

 

 

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