Birmingham City 3
Allan 49, 83
Alessandra 60, 90
by CHRIS PARSONS
ARGYLE manager John Sheridan had called for a response for this first round Capital One Cup tie with Birmingham and despite the result, will undoubtedly feel that he has got it.
In the end, it took extra-time for the Blues, who finished 56 places above their Sky Bet League 2 opposition, to get past the Pilgrims in what turned into a thrilling game at St Andrews.
After a fairly even half, Birmingham took the lead through Scott Allan just four minutes into the second-half but were denied a two goal cushion when Jake Cole saved Lee Novak’s penalty.
They were punished for not taking that chance on the hour when Lewis Alessandra announced himself to the Green Army with a wonder strike from 20 yards.
Allan grabbed his second seven minutes from time and the Birmingham fans began to head home with the knowledge of a job done only for Alessandra to again strike for the Pilgrims deep into stoppage time to take the tie to extra time.
In the end, it was defender Kyle Bartley who applied the killer touch for Birmingham as just moments into stoppage time, he scored the goal that would see his side into the second round.
Those who travelled to Southend last Saturday would barely have recognised this Pilgrims side. They play with confidence, aggression and pride and although they are out of the competition, can still hold their heads high.
Sheridan made two expected changes for the Pilgrims first visit to Britain's second city since April 2009.
As promised, Cole replaced Luke McCormick in goal, who was no doubt aware that after tonight, the manager will have chosen his permanent number one.
Then, at the back, it was a case of Trots for Wotts, as new boy Neal Trotman lined up as a Pilgrim for the first time, in place of the injured Paul Wotton.
There was a slight change in system from the traditional 4-4-2 played at Roots Hall three days earlier with Romy Boco moving from the left wing to a free role behind the two strikers.
On the face of it, the Argyle bench was pretty unremarkable. That is until you consider that all seven substitutes were products of the club’s youth policy, spanning from 2001 to 2013.
The only familiar name in the Birmingham line-up was that of goalkeeper Colin Doyle. The Irish custodian enjoyed a trial at Home Park under Peter Reid on the eve of the 2010-11 season and played in friendlies against Hereford and Saltash. He eventually returned to St Andrews and the very next season played for the Blues in the UEFA Europa League.
In fact, it was the Birmingham ‘keeper who had the earliest scare, and would have been at odds to deny Boco, had his half-volley from 12 yards been on target in the opening five minutes.
It took the Blues a good few minutes to repay the favour when defender Dan Burn nodded a perfectly weighted free-kick from the left into Cole’s grateful hands.
But Doyle was beginning to be the busier ‘keeper and provided a good, low save to deny Marvin Morgan on 15 minutes; leaving the big striker desolate and with his head in his hands for not finishing Alessandra’s pin-point cross.
Argyle were building in confidence, and while they did not always threaten with their ventures forward, they were restricting their hosts to speculative long-range efforts at the other end.
They were given the occasional scare, though, especially when Cole parried Koby Arthur’s long range effort into a crowded area, before gratefully gobbling it up at the feet of Lee Novak.
Cole was next called into action just over five minutes before the break, and it was again Novak who was the danger man; breaking through the offside trap to take aim at goal with only the ‘keeper to beat. Many in St Andrews were already on their feet in celebration, only for Cole to palm away the striker’s low, placed effort and avert the danger.
The last action of the half saw Boco played into space on the edge of the Birmingham box, but with opposition defenders recovering, the Benin international could not get his shot away.
Just moments into the second-half, it was Birmingham guilty of wasting a golden opportunity when skipper Chris Burke smashed his angled shot over the bar with Cole already beaten by Novak’s cross.
But just moments later, the Blue found the breakthrough with Allan given the chance to slot home from Tom Adeyami’s weighed through ball.
It could have got a whole lot worse for Argyle, though, as with their tails in the air, Birmingham pressed forward, set on killing of their guests from League 2.
On one such sortee, Burke took a tumble under pressure from Andre Blackman in the corner of the box, forcing referee Graham Salisbury to point straight to the spot. After a few minutes of calm, Novak stepped up to try his luck against Cole.
But the ‘keeper, who had saved his last penalty to Rochdale’s Bobby Grant at Home Park last October, stood strong to deny Novak and keep the score line manageable for his side.
Cole, buoyed by the save, was forced into action again soon after, this time to deny Adeyami from close range with a reactive strong right palm.
As good as Cole had been, on the hour mark, it was Alessandra who in the words of Andy Gray, could ‘take a bow’.
When the ball fell to him on the corner of the box, it never looked possible in a million years for the Pilgrims’ number seven to fashion a goalscoring chance. But as it dropped, he instinctively lashed the outside of his right foot through the ball, to send an unstoppable curling drive over Doyle and into the far corner to open his Argyle account and draw his side level. It was game on.
Minutes later, Argyle had a penalty shout of their own, but accusations that Boco had been pushed when he went sliding over in the box were quickly waved away.
Under pressure and feeling the wrath from the home fans, Birmingham began to push higher and higher up the pitch. With 15 minutes to play, this allowed Reuben Reid the freedom to beat the offside trap just inside the Blues’ half and bear down on Doyle.
His first touch was good, his second touch was good but when it came to the touch required to round the ‘keeper, he lost his balance and allowed Doyle to clear up.
Tyler Harvey was introduced to the fray with just over ten minutes remaining but had barely had a touch of the ball when Allan ghosted in at the far post to net his second of the evening and restore Birmingham’s lead.
Understandably, the home side slowed the tempo and when the clock struck 90, it looked evitable that the Pilgrims would be going home.
But just as some were heading for the door, Alessandra again found space on the right and produced another piece of brilliance to fire a shot across Doyle and into the bottom corner. Game on again.
After a short drinks recess, extra time commenced but it took just 90 seconds for the Blues to take the lead when Bartley finished Chris Burke’s corner with an un-centre-half-like volley from the edge of the six yard box.
Just as they had done twice before, Argyle set about the Blues with Alessandra providing the best chance of the first extra-time period with a thunderous drive that narrowly cleared the cross bar.
Then, just as the half-time approached, Harvey smashed Morgan’s cut-back into the side netting.
In the second period, Argyle went for broke and spend much of the 15 minutes camped out in the Birmingham half. In response, the home side piled bodies behind the ball, making it very difficult for the Pilgrims to break them down.
Sadly, there was to be no equalising goal, despite a late Allesandra free-kick and whilst defeat in this manner will surely hurt, every single man in Green can sleep tonight knowing that they have done their club proud.
Birmingham City (4-3-3):
1 Colin Doyle; 2 Neal Eardley, 5 Kyle Bartley, 6 Dan Burn, 27 Shane Ferguson (20 Oliver Lee 90); 24 Tom Adeyemi (15 Wade Elliott 77), 17 Callum Reilly, 26 Scott Allan; 7 Chris Burke (capt), 12 Lee Novak, 16 Koby Arthur (4 Paul Robinson 71). Substitutes (not used):
1 Darren Randolph (gk), 8 Hayden Mullins, 22 Andrew Shinnie, 25 Matt Green.
Arthur 67, Burn 69, Eardley 111
1 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson, 3 Andre Blackman; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 11 Dominic Blizzard (14 Luke Young 105); 8 Romuald Boco (24 Isaac Vassell 88); 9 Reuben Reid (18 Tyler Harvey 78), 10 Marvin Morgan. Substitutes (not used):
22 Jamie Richards, 23 Luke McCormick (gk), 25 Ben Purrington, 30 Ryan Lane.
10,178 (668 away)
Pictures by Dave Rowntree, sponsored by the 50-50 Lottery