Argyle 0 Newport 0 - ReportArgyle 0
by Rob McNichol
WHEN requesting a bit of magic or romance in the Emirates FA Cup, Argyle found the rabbit refusing to exit the hat, and that someone had eaten all the chocolates before they had been given to the hot date.
Despite Newport having Sean Rigg sent off, the Pilgrims could not make their one-man advantage, which they held for three-quarters of the game, pay.
In fact, Argyle were actually superb until Rigg's indiscretion, and then summarily failed to spark at all once the numbers were made uneven. Newport threatened occasionally on the break, but likely would have taken the result before their arrival at Home Park, and were likely giddy with it after losing Rigg so early.
Argyle manager Derek Adams was without Nauris Bulvitis and Arnold Garita for the cup tie, along with Jordan Slew serving a suspension following his sending off a week prior, at Morecambe. A mounting injury list meant Argyle's bench was populated by teenagers Jordan Bentley, Alex Fletcher and Billy Palfrey. The entire bench had just 30 appearances for Argyle between them - and 19 of those were Ryan Donaldson's.
Newport were hardly immune to knocks, and had to give a full debut to Abdoulaye Meite, the 36-year-old former Ivory Coast international, who County had only brought in as a free agent two weeks previously. The former Boilton and West Brom man had spent the previous two years in Greece, Scotland and Finland, but playing precious little football.
Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, the extravagantly named Newport right-back, was also said to be struggling, but passed muster to play. His partial namesake PT Barnum is credited with once having said 'There's a sucker born every minute'; the great circus entrepreneur has little attributed to him about cautions, but Jazzi picked up a yellow card with only just over a minute played. It left the full-back walking a tightrope for the remaining 88+ minutes, marking Graham Carey, who is no clown.
Argyle entirely dominated the opening exchanges to such an extent that Oscar Threlkeld, who is filling in at left-back, did not need to get acclimatised defensively, as he was essentially an auxiliary winger. Few clear chances were created, although Jake Jervis' drive down the right, followed by an astute cross, found Carey flying in off the left. Only his uncharacteristic off-target finish left Newport with any parity.
In scoreline, yet not manpower. After Barnum-Bobb juggled further with fire, fouling Threlkeld and escaping censure, Sean Rigg barrelled into Jervis in the centre of the pitch. Referee John Brooks saw Rigg's studs-up lunge as worthy of a straight red card, and already under-pressure County were now a man down.
As is so typically, the ten-man rallied. Suddenly Argyle, who had been playing eyecatchingly fluid football, started giving the ball away needlessly and suffering a string of miscommunications. Newport briefly fell into a system resembling 5-2-2 before taking off attacking central midfielder Josh O'Hanlon, and bringing on winger Jennison Myrie-Williams. Myrie-Williams has FA Cup previous against Argyle - he scored and played a blinder as Port Vale dumped the Pilgrims from the competition in 2013-14 - but this was a calculated move by Newport manager Graham Westley. The County brief was now to defend, and Myrie-Williams' lightning pace could be a vital asset it occasionally getting his side up the field.
Westley might have had to shuffle again a few minutes later, though. Barnum-Bobb was again a shade late on Carey, and fortunate to not be sent to keep Rigg company in whichever purgatory he had been sent to.
Argyle tried to shake themselves from their sudden slumber, creating - and missing - a chance that was almost impossible to explain. Gary Miller rolled a ball back to David Fox, who sent in a high, possibly slightly overhit cross. Threlkeld, though, kept the ball in, and it hit Connor Smith a couple of yards out, then rolled towards goal. During what seemed to be an eternity, Joe Day in the Newport goal inched his way to the ball, and shoveled it away, though how the whole situation did not yield the opening goal is a mystery to rival corn circles in the Bermuda Triangle.
The narrative was nearly that Newport made Argyle pay, but having got away from Yann Songo'o, Rhys Healey failed in his task to lob Luke McCormick and take County into the break with a most unlikely lead.
It was fitting that the very last action of the first half was Argyle on the attack, Craig Tanner winning a flick-on header in the box, but the ball falling betwixt and between David Goodwillie and the Newport far post.
Newport freshened up again at half-time, bringing on Jack Jebb for Jordan Green, and after ten minutes of little occurring, Adams' response was bring on Ryan Donaldson for Gary Miller at right-back, shortly followed by Louis Rooney in place of Goodwillie up front.
The pattern of almost the entire second half was Argyle with the ball for stretches of time, getting precisely nowhere with it, then Newport suddenly breaking. Usually, Argyle snuffed out the danger quite quickly, but as was the case when Healey wriggled a yard and had a strong deflected shot from the edge of the area saved, occasionally they threatened. When they did, they looked far more likely to score than the hosts.
Adams' last throw of the dice of desperation was to look to a proven FA Cup goalscorer. Admittedly, the goals came in the FA Youth Cup, but Alex Fletcher already had five goals to his name this season, and he was tasked with keeping Rooney company and trying to wring a little FA Cup magic from an increasingly gloomy picture.
It was almost a different Argyle Academy graduate who beat him to it. Ben Tozer, whose family home is still little more than a standard par 5 from Home Park, left Argyle as a 17-year-old before completing his apprenticeship, and before making a first-team bow. Now 26, and on his sixth post-Plymouth club, he popped up in space in the dying minutes to try to lob McCormick, but steered wide.
Jervis' diving header called Day into serious action for the first time in the second period, but the County stopper was up to it, and a looping Bradley header forced another piece of late action, but it was all too comfortable.
The teams will now be on parade again, with a replay scheduled for Tuesday, December 13.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 2 Gary Miller (11 Ryan Donaldson 55), 4 Yann Songo'o, 15 Sonny Bradley, 18 Oscar Threlkeld; 24 David Fox, 6 Connor Smith; 14 Jake Jervis, 27 Craig Tanner (30 Alex Fletcher 79), 10 Graham Carey; 7 David Goodwillie (20 Louis Rooney 59). Substitutes (not used): 19 Karleigh Osborne, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk), 28 Jordan Bentley, 29 Billy Palfrey.
Booked: Jervis 27, Tanner 79.
Newport County (4-2-3-1): 1 Joe Day; 2 Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, 40 Abdoulaye Meite, 17 Scott Bennett (capt), 3 Dan Butler; 12 Ben Tozer, 16 Josh Sheehan; 15 Jordan Green (33 Jack Jebb half-time), 34 Josh O'Hanlon (11 Jennison Myrie-Williams 32), 27 Sean Rigg; 19 Rhys Healey (13 Marlon Jackson 81). Substitutes (not used): 6 Joss Labadie, 7 Jack Compton, 8 Mark Randall, 30 James Bittner (gk).
Sent off: Rigg 23.
Booked: Barnum-Bobb 2, Butler 34, Bennett 73.
Referee: John Brooks.
Attendance: 5,071 (266 away)