Gregory 21, 43, 49, pen 58, O'Brien 66
by Rob McNichol
ARGYLE exited a second cup competition in the space of four days with a second piece of uncharacteristic behaviour this week.
A 2-0 loss on Saturday to Carlisle saw an unusually lacklustre Pilgrims side meekly exit the FA Cup - this was a performance full of zest and energy that had been lacking against the Cumbrians, but saw Argyle'near-watertight league defence breached time and again by Millwall's quality front-line.
Lee Gregory's first of a hat-trick put Millwall ahead in the first half, and although Jake Jervis equalised, Mark Beevers gave the Lions a half-time lead. Gregory's second gave Millwall a two-goal advantage before Graham Carey added another stunner to his highlight reel, but Gregory's third and an Aiden O'Brien goal saw the Pilgrims off. Jervis added a second of his own late on, but Argyle were already deleting the Area Semi-final from the calendar by that point.
On the night, Derek Adams gave a full debut to Oscar Threlkeld, who replaced Josh Simpson in the middle of Argyle's midfield, and recalled Gregg Wylde, who ostensibly replaced Ryan Brunt. The inclusion of winger Wylde facilitated Jervis switching to a central striking role.
The feeling out process between the two teams lasted a fair while after the start of the game - which in truth is a euphemism for 'nothing much happened in the early stages'. After a poor game on, though, Adams would likely have been happy with the start his team made, keeping a close leash on a team only one position outside of the play-offs in a superior division.
He would have been even happier had Curtis Nelson's headed found the net, after a dozen minutes, rather than striking the top of the crossbar. In all honestly, goalkeeper Jordan Archer was never troubled by the effort, which came from a Graham Carey free-kick but it was a good sign.
Millwall's first chance to make Argyle notice their divisional superiority came five minutes later, as the experience Steve Morison picked Peter Hartley's pocket and bore down on goal. Chasing him, though, was Nelson, and the skipper's vital interjection saw the ball head safely back to Argyle's possession.
The fortune soon ran out, though. Shaun Williams sent over a low, tempting cross from the left, and Gregory had the presence of mind to flick the ball on towards the far corner. The natural pace on the ball took it away from Luke McCormick, and the Sky Bet League 1 side had the one goal advantage.
Despite the deficit, this was an Argyle side looking a million times brighter than the one that trailed Carlisle by two goals on Saturday at this stage, and they set about getting back in the game. Millwall, looking organised and resolute, did a very good job for a long while of preventing Argyle from getting anything meaningful into the penalty area.
The Pilgrims, though, kept at it, and got a reward for their patience and diligence just after the half hour mark. They had had a sizable period of play with the ball, and the play had reached the right wing. Kelvin Mellor checked back and played it to Carey, who looked in a great position to swing one in with his left foot. On looking up, though, he saw plenty of yellow jerseys marshaling those in green and white.
Carey opted, rather than sling in a cross and hope for the best, played an intelligent square pass to Carl McHugh. McHugh, in turn, played the ball to the left flank for Gary Sawyer, who had a much better vantage point from which to pick out a cross. It reaches Jervis, with his back to goal, around eight yards out. Under close pressure, Jervis did superbly to get the ball down, pivot and shoot goalwards. Archer got a little on the shot, but not enough, and Argyle had their equaliser.
Parity lasted nine minutes, before Millwall retook the lead with as soft a goal as you are likely to see. A corner from the left for Millwall found Mark Beevers, who headed goalwards. The ball was bound for the bottom corner, albeit slowly, but looked liked it would be cleared. McHugh took aim to clear, a couple of yards from the line, with Threlkeld stood to his side. It seemed as though both men thought about heaving the ball clear, then thought the other might, and hesitated. All this played out in the space of about a quarter of a second, and unfortunately resulted in McHugh taking a light swipe and slicing it into the net.
McHugh, who actually had a superb half in Argyle's midfield, nearly made instant amends. Argyle had a free-kick on the edge of the area, from which Carey's shot was deflected wide. Carey's corner was partially cleared, but Jervis played in a superb return ball, and McHugh's header could scarcely have been better. However, Archer's save was even better, and Millwall ensured they led at the break.
After the interval, the Lions roared into a two-goal lead, as Gregory grabbed a third for his side and a second for himself. His initial shot was saved by McCormick, but Gregory was able to reach the rebound first, and prodded home.
Shortly afterwards, Carey picked up the ball in space. As he looked up, and shaped to shoot, the natural thought was 'don't be daft, son.' Shooting from long range is often the sign of a side getting a little frustrated and taking shots from anywhere out of desperation. It is rarely a good sign.
Of course, Carey scored.
Desperation it may have been, but it was impeccable technique and as good a goal as you are likely to see. Game on?
Not so fast. Gregory slipped between Nelson and Hartley and headed for goal. It looked like the defensive pair had recovered sufficiently, but as the group checked back, Hartley was adjudged to have pulled Gregory to ground, and a penalty was awarded. Gregory picked himself up to take the spot kick, and calmly placed it past McCormick to seal his hat-trick.
Adams sent on Brunt for Tanner, and Argyle shifted to 4-4-2, but Millwall picked their way through again on 66 minutes. This time Gregory played in Aiden O'Brien, who flicked into the net, to make Millwall the first side to score five against Argyle at Home Park since Oxford in a league cup tie over 18 years ago.
It looked as though Morison would hammer home a rather unnecessary nail when he took advantage of McHugh's uncharacteristic dithering and bore down on McCormick, but the Argyle keeper made an excellent save.
Within thirty seconds, Argyle had actually narrowed the gap. Mellor took charge of a loose ball and barrelled fowards. His forceful throughball found Jervis, who fired in low from 20 yards.
Millwall saw the game out, and now Argyle truly can live up to the cliche and concentrate on the league.
You know, the one we are top of.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley (16 Ben Purrington 82), 3 Gary Sawyer; 26 Oscar Threlkeld, 4 Carl McHugh; 27 Craig Tanner (17 Ryan Brunt 62), 10 Graham Carey, 11 Gregg Wylde (8 Josh Simpson 68); 14 Jake Jervis. Substitutes (not used): 7 Lee Cox, 21 James Bittner (gk).
Booked: Purrington 90.
Millwall (4-4-2): 13 Jordan Archer; 4 Carlos Edwards (15 Sid Nelson 33), 17 Byron Webster, 16 Mark Beevers, 3 Joe Martin; 10 Fred Onyedinma (24 Ben Thompson 88), 21 George Saville, 6 Shaun Williams, 22 Aiden O'Brien (8 Ed Upson 83); 9 Lee Gregory, 20 Steve Morison (capt). Substitutes (not used): 29 Alfie Pavey, 40 Harry Girling (gk).
Booked: Webster 90
Referee: James Linington.
Attendance: 5,869 (295 away).