Liverpool started the new year with a 2-0 win at Championship side Preston in the FA Cup, courtesy of goals from Albert Riera and Fernando Torres.
Riera scored a great opener in a first half which the away side dominated, but an injury to Xabi Alonso, who was controlling the game in midfield, allowed Preston into the game in the second half.
Preston had a goal disallowed during their best spell of pressure when Carragher was held back in the box.
In the last seconds, Gerrard played a captain’s role by literally handing the returning Torres a goal on a plate, setting him up on a counter attack.
Rafa Benitez will be pleased to see his side progress without the need for a replay, something Chelsea couldn’t manage against Southend, but will be concerned by the injury to Alonso and fellow midfielder Javier Mascherano who was replaced late on with what looks like a hamstring injury.
Robbie Keane returned to the team after missing the 5-1 win at Newcastle but was guilty of several misses in the first half when Liverpool should have put the game beyond Preston.
BBC Sport Report
A stunning Albert Riera strike helped Liverpool to victory at Preston in a pulsating FA Cup third-round clash.
The Spaniard’s trickery opened up the flat-footed defence in the first half and his shot screamed into the corner past the excellent Andy Lonergan.
The Premier League high-fliers dominated for most of the match with Steven Gerrard showing no signs of distraction after his arrest last week.
Preston impressed late on but Fernando Torres slotted home in the last minute.
The Reds made four changes from the side that demolished Newcastle 5-1 as manager Rafael Benitez stayed faithful with captain Gerrard.
Anyone thinking the England midfielder may have other things on his mind following his arrest after an alleged brawl last week were simply wrong with an inspirational performance. He was at the heart of everything.
However, with Preston on a fine run in the Championship – winning six in their last 10 games – they had every reason to fancy their chances against the side sitting at the summit of the Premier League.
One of those reasons was Ross Wallace. The on-loan winger has scored three times since his move from Sunderland and his sizzling free-kick after five minutes forced Diego Cavalieri into a plunging save.
The rest of the half involved a sea of red piling forward. The alarm bells would have been ringing 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, the ball was soon flying into the top right corner.
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 Sean Ledger headed the ball into the net with 17 minutes remaining, but the wild celebrations were curtailed with the impressive Jon Parkin having been spotted hauling down Jamie Carragher on the goalline.
For the final 20 minutes, Liverpool looked a little wobbly with Parkin 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 selflessly setting up substitute Torres to tap in from three yards.
Preston: Lonergan, Jones, Mawene, St. Ledger, Davidson, Sedgwick, Chaplow, McKenna, Wallace, Parkin, Mellor
Subs: Chris Neal, Brown, Nicholson, Carter, Whaley, Nolan, Elliott
Liverpool: Cavalieri, Carragher, Hyypia, Agger, Insua, Babel, Alonso (Lucas 45), Mascherano (Aurelio 82), Riera, Gerrard, Keane (Torres 72).
Subs not used: Reina, El Zhar, Ngog, Skrtel.
Goals: Riera, Torres (90+3)