Tomlin 15, Pope 36
Reid 51, Purrington 74
ARGYLE arguably deserved more than to just simply stay in the FA Cup as one of the fourth-round ‘or’ options after thoroughly outplaying their Sky Bet League 1 hosts on their own patch before having to settle for a share of the spoils.
The Pilgrims dominated the first half to such an extent that it was almost a crime that they found themselves 2-0 down at the interval.
They were accessories to the felony, though, allowing Vale forwards Gavin Tomlin and Tom Pope to too easily convert headers in the 15th and 36th minutes in what were two rare goalbound attempts from the home side.
Displaying the never-say-die attitude that has seen them prosper lately in League 2, Argyle reduced the deficit early in the second half through the outstanding Reuben Reid’s 13th goal of the season and continued to take the game to their higher-league hosts.
They levelled the scores midway through the half when teenager Ben Purrington, who had started the game as substitute, squeezed the ball home.
There were heroes all over the field, however, as the Pilgrims produced possibly their most complete team performance to mark the exactly one-year management of John Sheridan.
Sheridan had made three changes to a Pilgrims line-up that had won seven points out of a possible nine in the previous three Sky Bet League 2 matches, most notably recalling Durrell Berry to the left-back role that had been occupied by Purrington.
Although 17-year-old Purrington’s first three senior appearances had Sheridan extolling the youth-team skipper’s “excellent” performances, it was maybe felt the relative experience of Berry – who is not exactly long in the tooth at 21 years old – would be more beneficial against Jennison Myrie Williams.
The Vale speedster, himself recalled after the Valiants’ 3-2 League 1 defeat at Preston on New Year’s Day, had destroyed Robbie Williams on the Pilgrims’ last visit to the Potteries – a year to the day previously – which Sheridan had witnessed first hand.
Argyle’s other two changes were expected; indeed, had been signalled in advance. Goalkeeper Jake Cole was rotated back into the position which he has occupied in all seven of the Pilgrims’ cup-ties this season, while the effort to extend Tope Obadeyi’s loan from Bury by a day ensured he could take the place of Caolan Lavery, whose parent club, Sheffield Wednesday, did not want him cup-tied.
Vale also swapped their goalkeepers – Chris Neal for Sam Johnson – and, as well as Myrie Williams, whistled up defender Chris Robertson and midfielder Anthony Griffith: Liam Chilvers, Chris Shuker and Chris Birchall were benched, meaning that precisely 50% of the home side’s changes involved someone called Chris.
Obadeyi, Gurrieri and Alessandra formed a little interchangeable trio behind main striker Reid, with captain Conor Hourihane and Dominic Blizzard anchoring things in midfield, and Obadeyi soon made headway and teed up his skipper for a shot that cleared the crossbar.
The game’s next chance fell to – or, rather, was created for himself by – Neal Trotman, who attacked Robertson’s imprecise clearance of Hourihane’s free-kick, headed the ball up and volleyed it just past the post when it dropped.
Argyle continued to take the game to their hosts, with Gurrieri driving into the penalty area and finding Obadeyi on the blind side of his marker at the far post for a shot that clattered the foot of the post.
The ball rebounded to the fast-arriving Max Blanchard, whose rasping, rising, first-time shot was tipped away for a corner by Neal.
Immediately, and against the run of play, Vale went ahead with their first, soft, goalbound attempt after Gurrieri conceded a free-kick on the Pilgrims left. Tomlin somehow found time and space to head home Myrie Wiliams’ sweet delivery.
Argyle did not spend any time licking their wounds. Blizzard let fly with a shot that Neal spilled before recovering, and Obadeyi was on his way to goal when he was tripped on the edge of the Vale penalty area.
Hourihane’s curling free-kick appeared to be on target when it was deflected by the defensive wall, with the Argyle captain making lengthy and passionate appeal that the ball had been pushed wide by a hand.
Things quietened a little after that, but Argyle continued to play the better football, and more of it. Had Hourihane been a half a yard quicker in reading Obadeyi’s threaded pass (he was still a yard quicker than the Vale defence), they may well have had a return commensurate with their endeavours.
Unbelievably, when the next goal came, it was at the other end as Vale’s second on-goal attempt produced their second goal. Captain Doug Lofts fed Pope and when that happens, as the popular home chant has it, he will score. He did, with his head.
The half ended with Vale starting to look like the League 1 side and fashioned a decent chance in injury-time, but Cole was equal to Myrie Williams’ shot after the forward had been played in one on one.
The Pilgrims had finished the half in a 4-4-2 information which suggested no intention to retreat, and that was given reinforcement in the opening seconds of the second period when an opening was worked for Reid, who shot wide.
Within five minutes, Argyle finally reaped reward for their performance and their manager’s perspicacity. Berry released Alessandra down the Pilgrims’ left, and the striker sprinted into the penalty area, drew Neal at the near post, and cut the ball back for Reid to side-foot the ball home.
Suddenly, we had a cup-tie on our hands, with both sides determined not to pass up the opportunity to face Brighton & Hove Albion in the fourth round. Obadeyi fired wide when clean through, and Tomlin and Myrie Williams both saw Cole get down well to keep out penalty-area drives.
That proved to be Obadeyi’s last act as a Pilgrim before – with Purrington already having come on in place of Blanchard – he was replaced by Nathan Thomas immediately before Hourihane was denied an equaliser when a wrong-footed Neal twisted to turn the captain’s deflected free-kick away for a corner.
Led by the indefatigable Reid, Argyle just kept on coming, so it was no surprise that the equaliser arrived, even if the identity of the scorer was unexpected. Again, the break was down the left; again, the unselfish Alessandra did all the leg-work. To Purrington, in front of the Green Army, the glory.
Vale riposted with their most sustained attacking play of the game, and Curtis Nelson – a Stokie, no less – was at the heart of Argyle repulsions as the game reached one-hero-one-villain territory.
That hero was so nearly Thomas, when Alessandra played him into the Vale penalty area at pace, only for Neal to beat out his drive for a corner.
As the game entered injury-time, Alessandra provided another killer pass, this time for Gurrieri, who twisted space for a shot that beat Neal but which came back off the post.
So near. So, back to Home Park.
(4-5-1): 1 Chris Neal; 2 Adam Yates, 4 Chris Robertson, 24 Richard Duffy (6 Liam Chilvers 40), 5 Carl Dickinson; 9 Jennison Myrie Williams (39 Jordan Hugill 72), 7 Doug Loft (capt), 21 Anthony Griffith, 8 Louis Dodds (19 Ben Williamson 64), 10 Gavin Tomlin; 11 Tom Pope. Substitutes (not used): 12 Sam Johnson (gk), 15 Chris Shuker, 22 Ryan Lloyd, 26 Chris Birchall.
: Tomlin 20, Robertson 65.
(4-5-1): 1 Jake Cole; 4 Maxime Blanchard (25 Ben Purrington 58), 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson, 2 Durrell Berry; 26 Tope Obadeyi (19 Nathan Thomas 67), 11 Dominic Blizzard, 27 Andres Gurrieri, 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 7 Lewis Alessandra; 9 Reuben Reid (8 Rommy Boco 88). Substitutes (not used): 5 Guy Branston, 14 Luke Young, 15 Paul Wotton, 23 Luke McCormick (gk).
: Gurrieri 14.
: David Webb.
: 5,511 (591 away).