ARGYLE and Rovers have a long and storied history as opposition. In fact, the Pilgrims have faced the Gas in competitive matches more often than any other opponent.
It should be no surprise, then, that the two Westcountry rivals also have form in the world’s oldest cup competition. Having been drawn together three times in the Emirates FA Cup before this season, Rovers edge this competition’s head-to-head 3-2.
Excluding this season’s 1-1 draw at the Mem, which necessitates this evening’s televised replay, the most recent meeting between the two teams was a cracker – and it happened 18 years (and one day, to be exact) ago.
Both teams had battled past non-league opposition, after a replay, to ensure safe passage to round two of the competition. Argyle overcame Whitby Town 3-2 at Home Park, having survived an upset by drawing 1-1 at the Turnbull Ground. Meanwhile, Rovers defeated Aldershot Town at the Mem to set up a date with the Pilgrims.
The Greens had already gotten the better of the Gas in their league meeting on the same soil just six weeks earlier, with Lee Hodges and Martin Phillips on target in a 2-1 victory. However, a 1-1 draw at Home Park ten days earlier, the Pilgrims’ goal coming from skipper Paul Wotton, had left Paul Sturrock’s side heading up the M5 for a replay.
With a plum third-round tie away to Premier League Derby County awaiting the winner, the opening half of the game was a tight and nervy affair, played out in front of 5,763 hardy spectators. What the first-half lacked in goalscoring opportunities, it made up for in the second.
Mark Walters’ long ball to Rovers’ star striker Nathan Ellington (nicknamed ’the Duke’, after the famous jazz musician bearing the same surname), bullied the Argyle defence before laying an opportunity on a plate for substitute Sergio Ommel, who gave the hosts the lead.
Things went from bad to worse the Greens, who fell further behind shortly afterwards when Lewis Hogg’s scorching long-range drive tore past Romain Larrieu.
It was Argyle’s other legendary Frenchman, David Friio, who looked to have dragged the Greens into extra time with two well-taken goals inside ten minutes to level things up at 2-2.
However, Ellington struck in the 87th minute to end the Pilgrims’ spirited fightback.
Rovers did not waste the occasion at Pride Park in the third round, and an Ellington hat-trick ensured that they produced the shock of the tournament, beating their Premier League opposition 3-1. Ellington later played for Derby.
And Argyle? They recovered from their last-gasp cup loss to win the Third Division title with a record 102-point haul.