Albert Riera unleashes a shot to unlock the Preston defence
A stunning Albert Riera strike and a late Fernando Torres tap-in helped Liverpool to victory at Preston in a pulsating FA Cup third-round clash.
With Liverpool dominating, Riera's trickery opened up the defence on 23 minutes and his shot flew into the corner past goalkeeper Andy Lonergan.
Sean St Ledger looked to have equalised for Preston, but his header was ruled out because of a silly Jon Parkin foul.
Steven Gerrard unselfishly set up Torres in injury-time to seal the win.
Gerrard showed no signs of distraction having been charged with assault and affray last week, and his form fully justified Rafael Benitez's decision to keep faith with his captain with the England midfielder at the heart of everything for Liverpool.
Preston went into the game in decent form, winning six of their last 10 games in the Championship, giving them every reason to fancy their chances against the side sitting at the top of the Premier League.
The form of Ross Wallace has been key to Preston's rise with the on-loan winger scoring three times since his move from Sunderland, and his sizzling free-kick after five minutes forced Liverpool keeper Diego Cavalieri into a plunging save.
The rest of the half involved a sea of red piling forward. The alarm bells were ringing for Preston after just 11 minutes when Riera's speed set up Robbie Keane who shot badly wide.
With a Gerrard volley falling into the grateful hands of Lonergan, it was not long before the visitors grabbed the lead on 24 minutes.
Despite a lucky bobble that enabled the ball to end up with Riera on the edge of the box, there was nothing lucky about the finish.
The 26-year-old Spanish international twisted and turned, and with the defenders mesmerized, and Lonergan's view partially blocked, Riera turned to blast home the opener.
Keane should have had a hat-trick by half-time, but a combination of keeper Lonergan and wasteful shooting denied the Irish striker.
The second period began in similar fashion and Daniel Agger should have doubled the lead when he nodded a Gerrard corner shockingly wide.
On the hour, Gerrard's side-footed shot was tipped over by Lonergan, but it seemed to kick-start a Preston revival.
St Ledger headed the ball into the net with 17 minutes remaining, but the wild celebrations were curtailed with the impressive Parkin having been spotted hauling down Jamie Carragher on the goal-line.
For the final 20 minutes, Liverpool looked a little wobbly with Parkin and Wallace proving a real menace.
As Alan Irvine's men poured forward in search of the equaliser Liverpool broke away and Gerrard capped off a fine display by setting up substitute Torres to tap in from three yards in his first game for six weeks.
There was one sour note for Liverpool, with an injury to their midfielder Xabi Alonso on the stroke of half-time. He hobbled off the field and was replaced by Lucas.
The in-form Alonso had seven stitches on his instep, and Liverpool expect to know more about his condition in the next day or two.
Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee on Steven Gerrard:
"He is a great footballer, he produced a terrific performance.
"Things have been written about him, but we know that he is a terrific professional, a model professional and this club will put all our support behind Stevie Gerrard.
"But he is a great servant for this club, a great ambassador and we will continue to support him throughout, he's a terrific guy."
Preston manager Alan Irvine:
"Our lads have been excited ever since the draw, and that was because they wanted to play against Liverpool's big stars.
"It has been an education for them. For Sean St Ledger to be facing Fernando Torres was a great education for him.
"I knew Steven Gerrard would play well, he is fantastic, top class, and I knew he would do that. I have very rarely seen him do anything less than that."
Preston: Lonergan, Jones, Mawene, St. Ledger, Davidson (Nolan 56), Sedgwick, Chaplow (Nicholson 81), McKenna, Wallace, Parkin, Mellor (Elliott 62).
Subs Not Used: Chris Neal, Brown, Carter, Whaley.
Liverpool: Cavalieri, Carragher, Hyypia, Agger, Insua, Alonso (Leiva Lucas 46), Mascherano (Aurelio 83), Babel, Gerrard, Riera, Keane (Torres 73).
Subs Not Used: Reina, Ngog, El Zhar, Skrtel.
Goals: Riera 25, Torres 90.
Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Liverpool's Albert Riera 8.00 (on 90 minutes).
Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.
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