United made it through to the area semi-final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy after a penalty shoot-out win against Plymouth. James Constable had equalised an Alex MacDonald opener for Argyle to set up spot kicks, where Ryan Clarke proved the hero with two fine saves to send his team through.
It was a big night for Tyrone Marsh as he made his full debut for the U’s in a three-man front line alongside Alfie Potter and Sean Rigg. There were recalls for Adam Chapman and Jake Forster-Caskey in a midfield trio which saw Lee Cox at the base of the triangle, while full backs Damian Batt and Liam Davis returned alongside Michael Raynes and Jake Wright at the back.
It was Potter who carved out the first opening after four minutes, weaving into the box but unable to get his shot away, while a speculative effort from Rigg in the ninth minute went tamely wide of the right-hand post.
Argyle despite seven defeats in their last eight games, were bright from the outset and two early twisting runs from Mark Molesley caused United problems, the second resulting in a free kick which Alex MacDonald blasted just wide of the mark in the 12th minute.
There was a big let off for the U’s in the 17th minute as right-back Durrell Berry drifted inside the box and sent in a left-footed effort which took a vital deflection to send it on to the right-hand post, the ball spinning across goal and out of play beyond the other upright for a corner. However, the reprieve was only temporary as on 20 minutes the home side took the lead. A free-kick level with the left edge of the area gave MacDonald a chance to show his skills. Everyone was expecting a cross but instead the on-loan Burnley striker marked the last game of his stay at Home Park by swirling in a fine right-footed effort which flew across goal and into the top-right corner of the net. Great goal or fluke. Who knows?
There was plenty of endeavour about United but chances were drying up as the game became tighter in midfield. A shot from Forster-Caskey in the last minute of the half was comfortable for keeper Rene Gilmartin, but the keeper hadn’t really been tested beyond that at the interval.
There was more urgency after the break, despite Argyle having the first three efforts, the third of which needed a good save by Clarke from MacDonald after 53 minutes. United needed a cutting edge and turned to the familiar figure of Constable after 55 minutes, replacing the hard-working Marsh at the same time as Simon Heslop came on for Cox in midfield.
The change paid off almost immediately as the two subs combined to get their side level. Heslop crossed from the right and Rigg rose to challenge the keeper. All the goalie could do was flap the ball away under pressure towards Constable and the striker returned the ball with interest, looping his header over both the stranded Gilmartin and a covering defender on the line to make it 1-1 after 62 minutes.
An in-form Constable is a very dangerous weapon to have and he almost helped put his side ahead five minutes later as he cut the ball back for Batt, only to see the defender lift his shot high over the bar from six yards. We will draw a veil over the same player’s left-footed effort two minutes later…
Both sides gave it a go in the final quarter, Rigg flashing a shot across the face of goal on 77 and the excellent Molesley replying with a low shot just the wrong side of Clarke's right-hand post a minute later. Right-back Berry was shown a second yellow after 84 after bringing down Rigg on half way, making the last five minutes tense as United dominated and pushed for a winner in the 90 minutes. As in the first-half the opening came to Forster-Caskey right at the death but his shot this time went wide of the mark to set up a penalty-kick decider.
Plymouth went first, Rhys Griffiths scoring, Rigg levelled.
Gurrieri sent his kick over the bar, Chapman scored to make it 2-1.
Lowry's kick was saved by Clarke, Davis calmly rolled it home to make it 3-1
Blanchard had his shot saved by Clarke and United were through.
Excellent progress, once again based on character and refusal to admit defeat.
We look forward to the draw on Saturday morning.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Dave Fleming, Stats by PA Sports
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