Preston 1 Tottenham 5
Peter Crouch made the most of only his third start of the season by claiming a clinical hat-trick to ease Tottenham into the last 16 of the Carling Cup.
Spurs boss Harry Redknapp made seven changes for the third-round tie and Crouch emerged as the prime beneficiary as his predatory strikes took his season tally to five.
He made the most of his recall in the 14th minute when he dispatched Gareth Bale’s deep cross with a fine volley and Jermain Defoe effectively finished Preston off with a predatory header seven minutes before half-time but there were plenty more goals to come.
With 13 minutes remaining, Crouch tapped home Aaron Lennon’s low cross to add further gloss to a fine night for Spurs, who were given several scares by Alan Irvine’s high-flying Coca-Cola Championship outfit.
Preston lacked nothing in spirit, and pulled a goal back in the 83rd minute through substitute Chris Brown.
However, Spurs substitute and Republic of Ireland international Robbie Keane added a fourth for Spurs with three minutes remaining and Crouch completed his treble with a cheeky back-heel in injury-time.
Tottenham have ambitions to break into the Premier League’s top four but they have been put firmly in their place by Manchester United and Chelsea already this season.
A 3-1 home defeat against the champions was followed by a 3-0 thumping at Chelsea on Sunday, both results serving as stark reminders of the task facing Redknapp’s men.
Yet the Carling Cup has provided welcome respite for Spurs in recent seasons.
They won it under Juande Ramos in 2008 and reached the final last term, but they could have fallen
behind inside the opening minute at Deepdale when recalled goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes’ poor clearance was knocked back into the danger zone.
Jon Parkin swivelled to strike a low right-foot shot that was deflected out for a corner, but that ultimately served as a wake-up call.
They soon began to stamp their class on proceedings and Giovani was desperately unlucky not to score in the fifth minute.
Bale glided into space inside the left channel and found the unmarked Mexican lurking 12 yards from goal.
Giovani showed delightful footwork to turn and smash a fierce left-foot shot against the crossbar with Preston goalkeeper Andy Lonergan a grateful spectator.
In the eighth minute, Gomes showcased his shot-stopping ability with a fine save down to his left after Billy Jones greeted Michael Hart’s cross with a firm header.
In the 14th minute, Spurs led with a goal from Crouch that was simple yet so clinical in its execution.
Bale, revelling in the space afforded to him down the left flank, swung in another teasing delivery and Crouch arrived unmarked at the far post to power a right-footed volley into the net off a post.
Three minutes later, Giovani, still feeling the effects of an earlier challenge, decided he could no longer continue and was replaced by England winger Aaron Lennon.
Preston responded in the 25th minute when Parkin’s 25-yard drive was tipped over the bar by Gomes.
The hosts continued to probe but Defoe put Spurs 2-0 ahead in the 37th minute when he showed nimble footwork on the edge of the 18-yard box and struck a fierce shot goalwards.
Lonergan made a fine parried save but Defoe followed up with a firm header into the empty net from around 10 yards out.
Preston almost struck on the stroke of half-time when Parkin’s rising shot zipped narrowly over the bar.
Preston nearly found themselves 3-0 down in the 56th minute when Lennon wriggled clear down the right flank and cut the ball back for Tom Huddlestone 18 yards from goal.
His low strike flashed through a packed area but Lonergan was again equal to the task as he tipped the ball around his left-hand post.
Moments later Lonergan palmed away a shot from Defoe but Gomes was forced into a brilliant save to repel Ross Wallace’s curling free-kick in the 69th minute.
Lennon unselfishly fired low across the face of goal for Crouch to tap home his second but Preston refused to surrender and were rewarded with six minutes remaining when substitute Brown swept the ball into the net from close range.
It was not nearly enough for the Lancashire outfit as Spurs added a fourth when Keane sauntered clear and fired past an exposed Lonergan.
The impressive Lennon then crossed low for Crouch to back-heel in the first minute of added time as Tottenham romped home in style.