PLYMOUTH Argyle Ladies have progressed to the third round of the FA Cup after a thrilling extra-time victory over Gillingham Ladies.
The long journey to Kent received the ideal start when Zoe Cunningham scored after just two minutes but the home side struck back, and it would turn out to be an afternoon of tension, as the Pilgrims created a number of chances before accepting the fate of extra-time.
Fitness levels were severely tested and Argyle prevailed, with the ever-dangerous Natasha Knapman scoring the decisive goal to sap Gillingham’s energy and a glorious win secured by Ezme Wells.
Manager Travis Rowland set up his tactics to utilise the benefits of a huge pitch at Gillingham, ensuring we played with width in the attacking areas and the pace of Argyle’s wingers would prove a massive asset.
Amber Pollock started on the left and Kayleigh Lane patrolling the opposite flank, as the Pilgrims came flying out of the blocks with a loose ball falling perfectly for Cunningham to rifle a deflected shot past the home custodian.
There was a definite ploy from Argyle to attack the left side of Gillingham’s defence but a long ball forward earned the hosts a corner, and the leveller arrived when the ball was forced over the line with goalkeeper Michaela Phillips under heavy pressure.
Argyle regrouped and controlled the remainder of the first period, but the scrappy nature of proceedings made it difficult for lone-striker Knapman to find pockets of space.
A change of approach from the Pilgrims led to a second-half siege and Gillingham were grateful to their goalkeeper for some outstanding saves. The woodwork also frustrated a dominant Argyle and the game entered 30 extra minutes of drama.
Colossal performances at the back from captain Katie Middleton and Ebony Dover provided the solid platform for a sustained attack from the Greens, and the decisive second goal arrived via leading scorer Knapman on 102 minutes.
A change in shape had allowed Knapman to grow in influence and a cross from the lively Pollock was perfect for Argyle’s powerful centre-forward to head home an assured finish.
Gillingham looked a very tired team and there was a satisfying ruthlessness to the Argyle approach in the final 15 minutes, with a place in Monday’s draw sealed by a third from Wells, slamming in a close-range finish following a Becky Dandridge corner.
“The fitness levels of the girls were fantastic,” said Rowland. “We are all unbelievably proud of the effort from our team. Their motivation for making these long trips is to be involved in the big games and we are blessed with an ideal blend of youth and experience.”
The rosy picture for Argyle Ladies was maintained by a fabulous win for the Development side over Exeter & Tedburn Rangers.
The 8-1 triumph saw the unfortunate home side score three own goals and a double from Hayley Ranachan, the first of which an absolute peach in the early stages. Gabi Alphous, Dani Salt and Faye Ivall were also on target.
“The girls put the balls in the right areas all day and that forces defenders into making difficult decisions,” said manager Rob Bonney. “We were disappointed to concede a goal and also had to contend with injuries, but we have some young players growing in maturity all the time.
“A special mention to Dani Salt, who is a fantastic role model for our players. Her attitude and enthusiasm for every game and every training session is absolutely superb.”