By CHRIS PARSONS
THEY huffed and they puffed, but as hard as they tried, a very young Argyle team dropped out of the League Cup for the 16th time in 18 years to Millwall on Tuesday.
After a slow start, the Pilgrims never recovered from man-of-the-match Dany N'Guessan's 14th minute opener and perhaps could have gone further behind had the Frenchman properly connected with several other gaping chances throughout the match.
Substitute apprentice Matt LeCointe almost forced the game into extra-time at the death, but it was the side from the npower Championship who eventually triumphed, and, in fairness, deservedly so.
With another Saturday-Tuesday combination due next week, Reid was forced into three changes from the side that bravely fought for their 1-1 draw at Shrewsbury on Saturday.
The most notable absentee was of course Carl Fletcher who, after picking up a thigh injury, was rested in favour of Simon Walton.
Meanwhile, the hip-flexor niggle that plagued Durrell Berry in pre-season kept him out, forcing Stéphane Zubar to his native right-back berth and Curtis Nelson into the centre.
But it was in attack where Reid faced his biggest selection headache. With Warren Feeney away with Northern Ireland, it was Truro-born second-year apprentice Jared Sims who was handed a squad number, given the nod and sent out for his competitive senior debut.
On the bench, Reid named five apprentices in Jordan Copp, Isaac Vassell, Jordan Pearce, Jed Harper-Penman and Matt LeCointe along with a man with enough experience to teach them all a thing or two, Romain Larrieu.
First on the attack were Millwall and they should perhaps have been ahead as early as the first minute when N'Guessan was slipped through only to fire a weak shot into Jake Cole's hands.
Buoyed by their early chance, the visitors enjoyed a spate of possession, only once being trouble by a menacing Ben Gibson run down the left-hand side, before Chris Hackett had an effort, again straight into the grateful Cole's hands.
The Lions' second attempt at goal seemed to shake the Pilgrims into life and a period of good attacking play followed. Left-back Robbie Williams was the first to provide, crossing an inch perfect ball from a short corner that Zubar just failed to connect with.
Some promising final-third possession followed with a few nice pieces of passing play before Williams' shot trickled well wide.
Then, from goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall's clearance came the opening goal, and when John Marquis' flick-on found N'Guessan, it was clear he was determined to finish this time, as he shrugged off Soukouna before slotting the ball underneath the advancing Cole to give his side the lead.
A slight lull in the game followed, with both sides struggling to get a foot on the ball. Consequently, a number of sloppy fouls occurred, one resulting in a yellow card for former Pilgrim Nadjim Abdou.
Cole was definitely the busiest 'keeper and when the game finally did snap out of it's lull, he had to be alert enough to tip Darren Purse's header around the post.
More Millwall pressure continued after the break with N'Guessan again causing the most problems.
Argyle were slowly fading out of the game and after another toothless attack, Reid took a gamble and replaced Sims with 16-year-old apprentice LeCointe.
The teenager, who this time last year was studying for his GCSEs, became the sixth youngest player ever to appear in an Argyle shirt at 16 years and 288 days.
But before the youngster could really have a touch, Millwall had the ball in the back of the net again, this time through Therry Racon. Fortunately, referee Keith Stroud spotted a foul in the build up and allowed the Pilgrims to fight another day.
Like the first-half revisited, foul after foul seemed to occur, with several lengthy stoppages for head injuries.
With just over 20 minutes to go, N'Guessan caused problems again and probably should have scored, when he had the time and space to finish a free-header at the back post.
He wasn't finished there, though, and Soukouna was very lucky to escape without any sort of card when, with N'Guessen clean through, he looked to have pushed the striker just as he made contact with his eventual wayward shot.
It was to be Soukouna's last action as, just second later, he was replaced by debutant Jordan Copp.
Copp was like a breath of fresh air for the Pilgrims and, after winning the ball on the halfway line, strode towards the Lions' goal before playing a lovely slide-rule ball to LeCointe. Although his young colleague couldn't quite make the most of it, the surge in play raised the Home Park noise levels.
With the crowd behind them, Argyle pushed on and it was Luke Daley who was next to threaten, ducking and diving before winning a free-kick on the edge of the area. Williams stepped up to take the kick just a yard outside the area, and after waiting an eternity to strike it, saw his curling effort well saved by Mildenhall.
The visitors tried their best to keep possession in the midfield but the energy and enthusiasm of Argyle youngsters was proving more difficult to handle that their gestating bench had anticipated.
It wasn't until the stroke of the 90 that the Pilgrims created their best chance of the match, with youngster LeCointe denied at the last by Mildenhall.
Well, it was the League Cup. What did you expect?
Argyle (4-4-2): 23 Jake Cole (gk); 5 Stéphane Zubar (capt), 6 Curtis Nelson, 13 Ladji Soukouna (18 Jordan Copp 74), 19 Ben Gibson; 7 Luke Daley, 8 Simon Walton, 22 Conor Hourihane, 3 Robbie Williams; 10 Tom Hitchcock, 17 Jared Sims (27 Matt LeCointe 53).
Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu, 24 Isaac Vassell, 25 Jordan Pearce, 26 Jed Harper-Penman.
Booked: Hitchcock 16, Gibson 42, Hourihane 45, Walton 84
Millwall (4-4-2): 23 Steve Mildenhall; 21 Jack Smith, 4 Darren Purse, 3 Tony Craig (capt), 29 Jordan Stewart; 12 Chris Hackett, 19 Therry Racon (17 Tamika Mkandawire 67), 26 Nadjim Abdou, 16 Scott Barron; 9 John Marquis, 22 Dany N'Guessan (8 Hameur Bouazza 78)
Substitutes: 2 Alan Dunne, 5 Paul Robinson, 13 Ryan Allsop (gk), 14 James Henry, 18 Darren Ward.
Booked: Abdou 23,
Referee: Keith Stroud
Attendance: 4,781 (224 away)