Kyle Bartley’s first goal in English football saved Blues’ cup blushes and ended Plymouth’s plucky giant-killing bid after a pulsating two hours of football at St. Andrew’s.
The home faithful turned out in decent numbers hoping to see plenty of goals and were rewarded with five but they wouldn’t have anticipated them being shared out quite so generously. Loanee Scott Allan marked his first competitive start with two goals, but on each occasion the League Two outfit hit back through Lewis Alessandra - the second coming in stoppage-time. Bartley’s terrific volley early in extra-time eventually decided the contest but full credit must go to John Sheridan’s team who made it a far nervier affair than expected.
Plymouth keeper Jake Cole was called into action for the first time on 11 minutes. Dan Burn rose highest to meet Scott Allan’s inswinging free-kick but could only direct his header straight at the visiting custodian. The Pilgrims responded in kind with a similar set-piece as Lewis Alessandra’s free kick from the left picked out Marvin Morgan but the summer signing from Shrewsbury was denied by Colin Doyle diving low to his right.
Koby Arthur was keen to impress on his first competitive start for the club and the 17-year-old stung the hands of Cole with a fierce drive after cutting inside onto his right foot. Chris Burke tried his luck from the same sort of distance on the right but his shot was deflected on its way through and was comfortably claimed by Cole.
The League Two visitors were growing in confidence as the first-half drew on and enjoyed plenty of possession without seriously troubling Doyle. Cole remained the busier of the two keepers and he kept his side in it six minutes before the break. A lovely passing move started by Callum Reilly culminating in Arthur’s clever flick setting up Lee Novak with an excellent opportunity on the edge of the area but the striker saw his side-footed shot turned aside by Cole.
Plymouth carved out a wonderful opening on the brink of half-time but Romauld Boco lost his footing at the vital moment as he attempted to shoot and Blues were able to clear the danger.
Less than two minutes after the restart and it was the hosts’ turn to let a golden chance slip through their grasp. Another slick passing move presented Novak with a one-on-one chance but, at a narrow angle, he opted to centre for Burke and with the goal gaping the Scot lifted his shot well over the bar.
But Blues did not have long to dwell on that missed opportunity and Clark’s men gained the initiative on 49 minutes. Tom Adeyemi played a key role in the goal as his run and pass teed up Allan and the West Brom loanee showed great composure to round Cole before firing into the empty net.
Blues could have made the game safe less than three minutes later when Burke was barged over by Andre Blackman just inside the box to win his side a penalty. Novak took the responsibility from 12 yards but was left with his head in his hands as Cole threw himself down to his right to parry away the spot-kick.
The home side continued to press and only more goalkeeping heroics from Cole kept the deficit at one. Novak’s turn and shot inside the area was deflected up into the path of Adeyami and the former Norwich man’s shot looked destined to nestle in the net but the Plymouth number one spectacularly turned the ball aside.
Blues were left to rue those chances as the visitors levelled in incredible fashion on 61 minutes. The ball dropped to Alessandra 20 yards out and the 24-year-old former Morecambe man let fly with a tremendous half-volley that arrowed over Doyle’s outstretched arm into the top corner. The tie could have turned completely on its head when Reuben Reid raced clear of the Blues defence but left it too late to get his shot away and Doyle was able to smother his eventual effort.
Blues made the most of the let-off as Allan doubled his personal tally to put the hosts back in front with seven minutes of normal time remaining. Burke’s cross was palmed away by Cole but Ferguson collected the ball on the left edge of the box and curled in a terrific out-swinging cross that was volleyed home in an emphatic manner by Allan.
However just as looked as though Blues had completed the job the determined underdogs hit back again one minute into added-on time. The ball dropped to Alessandra again but this time the midfielder was nearer to goal and although Doyle got a good hand to his shot it rolled agonisingly into the far corner.
It was an additional half-an-hour that wouldn’t have been in the hosts’ preferred script but it took only two minutes of extra-time for Blues to regain the advantage. Burke’s corner was met by Bartley with a venomous volley that fairly fizzed into the net. Plymouth were not willing to lie down and accept defeat and threatened to level for a third time on three occasions – Alessandra, twice, and Tyler Harvey both firing in shots that flashed just off target.
Blues were made to work very hard for their victory but at the end of an exciting night of cup football it was Clark’s charges that progressed to round two.