Gurrieri 2, Hourihane 36
Port Vale 3
Hugill 30, Williamson 63, Myrie Williams 75
By RICK COWDERY
ARGYLE can take some comfort from having played their full part in an enthralling two-game third-round FA Cup with Budweiser tie before they bowed out gloriously to opponents from a higher division which they had outplayed for vast swathes of the three-hour encounter.
Having come from two goals behind in the Potteries to draw 2-2 in the first match, they twice took the lead in Tuesday’s replay before being shaded out of the match and dumped out of the competition, suffering the agony of missing a penalty to stay in it along the way.
On a freezing night at the Theatre of Greens, the Pilgrims caught their League 1 opponents cold when Andres Gurrieri stole in to head home Lewis Alessandra’s cross after just 114 seconds.
Vale levelled on the half-hour with a well-worked goal, beautifully finished by young striker Jordan Hugill before the Pilgrims re-took the lead with one of the Home Park goals of this or any other season.
It came from captain Conor Hourihane, who strode half the length of the pitch before planning a wonderful shot into the corner of the goal.
It was worthy of winning any cup-tie, but Vale had other ideas and equalised for the second time 15 minutes after half-time when substitute Ben Williamson headed home.
Vale then went ahead through Jennison Myrie Williams with 15 minutes to play before Argyle were awarded a late penalty when Hourihane was fouled. Reuben Reid’s kick was well saved by Vale goalkeeper Chris Neal.
Argyle manager John Sheridan had earlier sprung quite possibly the surprise of the season by selecting young Cornishman Isaac Vassell for his first Argyle start in place of the cup-tied Jason Banton.
Vassell, 20, had previously made nine substitute appearances for the Pilgrims’ first team all but one – August’s Capital One Cup defeat at Birmingham – two seasons’ ago.
The Second City encounter, 32 games previously, was the last time Vassell, a nephew of former England World Cup player Darius Vassell, had even featured in an Argyle match-day squad.
Sheridan also played the old one-two, bringing back goalkeeper Jake Cole and right-back Durrell Berry into the side that had drawn 1-1 at home to Southend United at the weekend, in place of Luke McCormick and Max Blanchard.
Vale came within a whisker of submitting a team-sheet with the ineligibly cup-tied defender Joe Davis on it. They spotted the potential embarrassment in time and Davis was omitted from the starting 11 that lost 2-0 at Brentford four days previously in favour of former Torquay man Chris Robertson.
On-loan Vale left-back Jack Grimmer was prevented by parent club Fulham from taking part, which meant a reprieve for Carl Dickinson, while injury saw Gavin Tomlin, scorer of the first game’s first goal drop out to be replaced by Hugill.
Completing a quartet of reasons for changes, paceman Myrie Williams was recalled to arms to replace Chris Birchall, who was just plain dropped to a six-strong bench as the ripples of Davis’s late withdrawal spread.
Argyle wasted no time in taking up where they had left off in Burslem ten days before, when they had bossed the first game between the two sides.
The ball was worked wide to the left side by Hourihane to Lewi Alessandra who, for all preferences to play up front, is a fine crosser of the ball. His delivery teased Neal out of his goal and Gurrieri nipped in front of the Vale goalkeeper to stoop and head the ball in from two yards.
With driving rain at their backs and Vale in their faces, life was not easy for Argyle but they kept their shape and discipline, and waited for the chance to break. When they did, on a greasy surface against cumbersome backpedalling defenders, they looked hugely potent, and Gurrieri came close to extending the lead with a shot, following Vassell’s cutback, that was blocked by Robertson.
Reid – magnificent, as ever – was next to get a sight of goal, thanks to Alessandra’s hunting-down of a ball that everyone but he had given up to get in another cross, cut back from the left bye-line. Argyle’s top scorer, though, was just unable to work enough space for a clean strike in the face of some desperate Vale defending.
It took nearly half an hour for the League 1 visitors to mount a serious assault on the Argyle goal, with right-back Adam Yates galloping away on the flank and squaring perfectly for Myrie Williams, who should have done better than fire wide.
Warning-shot fired, Argyle were pegged back almost immediately. Again, Vale moved the ball slickly, with Hugill and Louis Dodds exchanging passes on the edge of the Pilgrims’ penalty area before the youngster swept the ball low past Cole’s outstretched arm.
Just as, for the first time in the tie, it seemed the senior side would assert the superiority their league position suggests they should have, Argyle regained both the lead and the initiative thanks to Hourihane’s utterly superb solo goal.
The skipper picked up the ball on halfway, ran half the length of the pitch with three Vale defenders in his wake, checked back – selling all three a dummy – and fired the ball low across Neal and into the corner of the net.
The scenario was all but repeated a few moments later, when Gurrieri slipped the skipper through. This time, after checking, Hourihane played what looked like being a perfect pass to the unmarked Reid, only for Doug Loft to make a goal-saving interception on the slide.
Argyle started the second half with Blanchard having re-replaced Berry and on the back foot against opponents who had clearly been reminded of their responsibilities during the break.
Vale kept the ball well, making Argyle chase them around, and used it decently. Curtis Nelson headed a dangerous cross away from Tom Pope’s head and Ben Purrington made a cool clearance as Myrie Williams bore down on goal.
Even when Argyle cleared the ball, they could not fully find their way out of the woods, with Loft firing a rising shot over the crossbar from 35 yards which was so powerful that he lost a boot in the process.
Alessandra and Hourihane relieved the pressure a little with speculative shots that Neal dealt with comfortably enough before Vale upped the ante by whistling up Chris Shuker and Williamson from the bench.
It was a switch that had an immediate impact with Williamson running from deep and flinging himself at Myrie Williams’ cross to head the ball past Cole just over two minutes after joining the fray.
Suddenly, two and a half hours into the tie, Argyle looked a leggy, frustrated shadow of their former self, but Sheridan has bred a determined streak into this year’s crop and Vassell so nearly got a decisive final touch on another Alessandra cross.
Hourihane, who is surely in the form of his life, forced Neal to make a full-length save from a powerful curling free-kick, before Sheridan attempted to crank things up by sending on Nathan Thomas.
Before Thomas had even got out of breath, Vale went ahead for the first time on the night with a too simple goal. Pope headed on a dropping ball, Myrie Willaims pounced, and Cole was left with no chance.
If anyone thought that was the end of things, they were mistaken. Hourihane drove into the box and was tackled illegally from behind by Chris Lines, who conceded a penalty and was dismissed.
Reid struck the spot-kick firmly to Neal’s right, but, although powerful, the shot was at a fairly comfortable height for the goalkeeper, who pushed the ball on to the roof of his net.
The Pilgrims were afar from finished and Blanchard was given a good chance to level when Gurrieri teed him up, but the Frenchman’s powerful header went over.
A better opportunity fell to Alessandra in injury-time when, with Vale appealing for a foul that was never given, the Argyle No. 7 shot just wide.
With the chance went Argyle’s participation in cups for another season. It has been a decent ride, though.
(4-4-2): 1 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry (4 Maxime Blanchard half-time), 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson, 25 Ben Purrington; 27 Andres Gurrieri, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 7 Lewis Alessandra; 24 Isaac Vassell (19 Nathan Thomas 73), 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used): 8 Rommy Boco, 14 Luke Young, 15 Paul Wotton, 22 Jamie Richards, 23 Luke McCormick (gk).
(4-4-2): 1 Chris Neal; 2 Adam Yates, 21 Anthony Griffith (15 Chris Shuker 61), 4 Chris Robertson, 5 Carl Dickinson; 18 Chris Lines, 7 Doug Loft (capt), 8 Louis Dodds, Jennison Myrie Williams (26 Chris Birchall 82); 11 Tom Pope, 39 Jordan Hugill (19 Ben Williamson 61). Substitutes (not used): 12 Sam Johnson (gk), 22 Ryan Lloyd, 41 Gary O’Neill.
: Lines 80.
Booked: Dickinson 13, Lines 73, Loft 90, Neal 90.
: Graham Scott.
: 6,474 (132 away).