Chelsea vs Plymouth Argyle: Who were the heroes and villains on Saturday afternoon at Stamford Bridge?
The European champions were pushed all the way by their League One opposition.
Backed by a massive travelling support, lower league Plymouth Argyle put in a hugely spirited display to give Chelsea a real scare in the Blues’ 2-1 FA Cup fourth round win on Saturday.
Despite being dominated in possession the visitors went toe-to-toe with the Champions League holders, and even took a shock lead in the opening stages of the tie through Macaulay Gilllesphey before César Azpilicueta equalised shortly before the break.
Thomas Tuchel’s men registered 41 shots compared to Argyle’s 11, but the Blues only had 11 efforts hit the target.
With the score tied at 1-1 on the final whistle, the game headed into extra time, and Chelsea’s Premier League quality finally told as Marcos Alonso put the hosts ahead in the 106th minute.
To their credit, Plymouth never gave up, and spurred on by their vocal support, pushed Chelsea all the way.
In the 118th minute, Ryan Hardie was brought down in the box by Malang Sarr and the referee pointed to the spot. The Scot stepped up as he tried to send the tie to a decisive penalty shootout, but his poor penalty was saved by Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Chelsea managed to hold on by the skin of their teeth despite a performance which showcased few glimpses of quality. The Blues now enter the draw for the fifth round.
Gillesphey’s superb header in the 8th minute set the game alight and sent the Pilgrims’ fans into hysterics. It was pure magic of the cup stuff.
Similarly, Plymouth keeper Michael Cooper is arguably the reason Argyle sit just outside the play-offs in League One, and time after time he frustrated the home attack as his side put in an impressively resolute defensive display.
Overall, Plymouth’s performance as a whole deserves to be commended on Match Of The Day this evening. Many lower league sides can be overwhelmed when they play one of the top flight’s big boys from but the Pilgrims were not fazed and their display was one that should be a benchmark for how EFL clubs can set up to great effect against one of the top teams in the country.
There were no real villains to speak of on either side.
As mentioned, Plymouth pushed Chelsea all the way and were a true credit to themselves.
Perhaps it could be argued that the Chelsea took their lower league opposition too lightly.
Many Chelsea fans expected a thrashing, as did many pundits, but in reality, the Blues wouldn’t have looked out of place if this was a League One clash.
Chelsea’s support was non-existent too. Plymouth fans sang their hearts out for the whole 120 minutes, while the Stamford Bridge faithful fans sang their usual “Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that” before falling silent until Azpilicueta netted their equaliser.
What happened to backing your team even when the chips are down, eh?
Ryan Hardie’s poor penalty ultimately cost Argyle the chance to win the match in a penalty shoot-out, but the term villain is far too harsh for the Scotsman. Nine times out of 10 he buries his spot kick and his side have one last shot at a monumental upset - the last thing he needs to be told is how disappointing his decisive miss was.
What this game should be remembered for instead is Plymouth’s never say die attitude and the fact that they almost gave the European Champions the bloodiest of noses.
The future at Home Park could be very exciting indeed judging by today’s performance...