By Rob McNichol
MERRY Christmas, Pilgrims - you are off to Anfield in the New Year.
Graham Carey's penalty, in the second period of extra time, following a second Emirates FA Cup goalless draw between the teams, booked Argyle's place in the third round of the competition, where they will meet Premier League giants Liverpool.
It was the Pilgrims' second penalty of the extra half an hour, but Arnold Garita's miss from 12 yards meant the stalemate continued. Argyle, though, kept hope in their heart, and Carey was able to send the Greens through.
Derek Adams brought Craig Tanner - Saturday's goalscoring hero at Accrington - back into the starting 11, at the expense of the unfortunate Ryan Donaldson, who suffered a broken cheekbone in training.
Graham Westley, the non-confrontational and never rude manager of Newport County AFC, selected Rhys Healey at centre-forward, having left him out of the Exiles' abandoned game against Morecambe, then introducing him as a half-time substitute against Crawley on Saturday.
Walking on through the wind and rain is often a problem on Newport's thrice utilised pitch, but a synthetic pitch cover had been in situ for part of the time between Friday night's rugby encounter on the Rodney Parade turf...and mud. The pitch was a mile off of being a carpet, but in truth, it was probably no worse than when Argyle had won here in the league earlier in the season.
Healey started up front with Marlon Jackson as Westley went for a traditional 4-4-2 formation in this most traditional of competitions. Argyle, with Tanner's inclusion, were back to their typical 4-2-3-1 system, but at times Tanner was advanced enough that he resembled more a deep-lying forward than a midfield player.
Tanner had the first real chance of the game, heading Oscar Threlkeld's left-wing cross on target, with Joe Day in the Newport saving on his goal-line.
At the other end, Healey's industrious cut inside from the left, followed by a dipping shot just over the bar, although one that Luke McCormick watched go over with little alarm.
The alarm level was shortly about the be raised, though. Jackson did enough to get behind Yann Songo'o, and when he squared for Healey, the opening goal looked imminent. Enter Threlkeld, turbo charged in covering from left-back, with a scintillating, and what looked like a crucial, tackle. In some ways it actually seemed a shame that the assistant referee's flag had gone up, for the quality of the tackle was such that it felt somehow harsh that it was somewhat redundant.
There followed some alarm of a different sort as Threlkeld stayed down, having taken a knock in the process, but he was soon back in position again.
Argyle were presented a chance thanks to a mix-up in the Newport defence, and the quick thinking and feet of Jake Jervis. Jazzi Barnum-Bobb wanted a ball to come to him quicker on the sludgy surface, and Jervis was in in a flash, nicking it away from County's right back and glancing past Darren Jones. Jones checked Jervis' run deliberately, and probably only escaped a caution for the cynical block because the referee had thought twice about booking Tanner for a late tackle some minutes before.
Graham Carey stepped forward to take the dead-ball, and wrong-footed goalkeeper, defence and much of the crowd with his shot - the only negative was that it fell despairingly the wrong side of the goal-post from an Argyle perspective.
Healey was still being a menace, and wriggled free in the Argyle box once again, but Songo'o made three interventions, each further away from goal than the previous, that ended another promising looking position from the Cardiff loan striker.
Shortly afterwards, a cross from Barnum-Bobb, overlapping on the right, found the ground between Healey and Jackson. In a dangerous situation, Jackson was able to toe the ball goalwards, and an expectant home crowd seemed to anticipate a goal, but McCormick's legs kept the ball the right side of the line, and the sheet stayed clean.
A pair of questionable decisions closed the half. It looked rather a lot like the tackle by Scot Bennett on Jervis, down Argyle's right flank, was rather a good one, however the assistant referee, close to the action, signaled a free-kick, and Argyle had a chance. A cross was delivered, then cleared, on three occasions, before a ball dropping from the sky was heading towards Songo'o, back to goal. It looked rather like the Argyle defender was pushed to the ground as the awaited gravity to do its job, but referee Dean Whitestone waved away the appeals.
Three periods of 45 minutes, then, over two games, had yielded no goals. The lingering question was whether a further 45 minutes would be enough to separate the two teams.
Ten minutes of the second half passed without incident, before Argyle had the first squeak of a chance. Carey, for the first time in the game, really imposed himself upon Newport's backtracking backline, and whizzed past three of them. His low centre was kicked away well by Day, who had to be even more alert when Threlkeld's inswinging return cross almost caught the heads of the hovering Jervis and Slew.
Newport made two substitutions, bringing on Josh O'Hanlon and Jordan Green for Marlon Jackson, and Argyle reciprocated by exchanging Tanner and Jervis for Arnold Garita and David Goodwillie.
In between times, Argyle had two chances. First a sublime pass by Fox was met with an even better touch by Carey, and eventually the latter's low, teasing cross evaded everyone, desperate though it wanted to be finished. Moments later, Slew nicked one past Day, but the ball trickled just wide.
Newport responded to Argyle's own double sub by releasing Healey again, who picked out Green. It was Green who had scored the opening goal at Home Park, when the sides had met in the Checkatrade Trophy and he threatened to repeat the dose, but shot wide of the near post.
That game had ended 4-1 to Argyle, though it looked a lot like this encounter would be settled by one goal at most. That looked for a second like it would come from the head of Garita, when Goodwillie sent in a first-time cross from the right, but the Cameroonian could only flick on, rather than at goal.
With five minutes to go, Garita turned up on the right flank, surged to the bye-line and cut the ball across to where Carey met it first-time, on the volley. He did well to control the ball on target, but Day was equal to it, and agonisingly no Pilgrim could follow in on the loose ball.
It was Argyle who finished the 90 minutes with more vigour and desire. Newport looked happy to take it easy when putting back in play, while Argyle looked like they wanted to get the job done and be back in Devon before Thursday dawned.
It was not to be, though, despite a couple of injury time corners and swiftly taken throw-ins, Argyle could not crack the case.
To extra-time, and before it that extra little spectacle of watching managers and coaches do their work on the park, not in the dressing room. Messrs Adams and Wotton gesticulated, while Brewster and Wilmot picked out individuals and offered arms-on-the-shoulder advice.
As the first period of added time began to elapse, thoughts began to creep in that this game was likely to be decided on penalties.
And then Argyle were awarded a penalty.
The Pilgrims had a corner cleared, but the ball floated back in by Connor Smith was nodded down by Sonny Bradley, and prevented from reaching Garita by an Exile's hand. Graham Carey had scored two penalty kicks for Argyle in the league visit in October, but Garita won the battle of wills to place the ball on the spot.
Garita's take, although beyond the goalkeeper, was pulled slightly, and rebounded off the post. When Garita himself made the next touch, it meant Newport had an indirect free-kick, and Argyle's chance was lost.
Before the half was out, Healey managed to skip town and get beyond the Argyle defence, but found McCormick too good in the one-on-one situation. The second of the evening's half-time whistles blew, meaning 195 minutes had been played between these sides, with no goal achieved.
Josh Sheehan's 20-yard dipper, on target, meant McCormick was in action early in the second period of extra time, but at the other end, we were about to get deja vu, squared.
The only slight disappointment in Argyle taking the lead was that Goodwillie did not get the chance to open his Pilgrims account. He was about to fire on goal from a great shooting position when Jones fouled him, and Argyle were awarded their second penalty of the evening - the Greens' fourth at Rodney Parade this season.
After bagging two spot-kicks in the league fixture, and being denied the opportunity by Garita earlier in the evening, Carey was never likely to not be the taker this time, much to Goodwillie's chagrin. Carey's penalty was almost identical to his second, at the same end as in October, sending Day - last time it was James Bittner - the wrong way, and the away end into raptures.
And, indeed, into Anfield.
Walk on, Pilgrim.
Newport County (4-4-2): 1 Joe Day; 2 Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, 4 Darren Jones, 17 Scot Bennett (capt), 11 Jennison Myrie-Williams; 16 Josh Sheehan, 6 Joss Labadie (40 Abdoulaye Meite 116), 12 Ben Tozer, 32 Finlay Wood (15 Jordan Green 67); 19 Rhys Healey, 13 Marlon Jackson (34 Josh O'Hanlon 67). Substitutes (not used): 3 Dan Butler, 8 Mark Randall, 14 Paul Bignot, 30 James Bittner (gk).
Booked: Jones 72.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 2 Gary Miller, 4 Yann Songo'o, 15 Sonny Bradley, 18 Oscar Threlkeld; 24 David Fox, 6 Connor Smith; 14 Jake Jervis (7 David Goodwillie 69), 10 Graham Carey, 27 Craig Tanner (26 Arnold Garita 69); 8 Jordan Slew. Substitutes (not used): 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 16 Ben Purrington, 19 Karleigh Osborne, 20 Louis Rooney, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk).
Booked: Bradley 89.
Referee: Dean Whitestone.
Attendance: 5,121 (936 away).