PLYMOUTH Argyle Ladies narrowly missed out on reaching the National League Plate final.
The Pilgrims lost 2-1 to cup holder West Bromwich Albion after extra-time at Manadon.
They were just five minutes away from a penalty shoot-out when Nicole Nymoen struck to end their dreams.
Argyle’s hopes were not helped by losing goalkeeper Ben Kyle just before the match due to flu and then lost the experienced Bow Jackson during the game. She suffered a rib injury and had to go to hospital, but was allowed to go home that day.
Realistically, Argyle now only have the Devon Cup to play for in a season that has promised so much.
The Pilgrims had teenagers Libby Lawton and Beth Everson along with Greece under-20 international Panagiota Papaioannou on the bench. With Kyle going down with flu it meant ever-reliable captain Kate Middleton had to stand-in at goalkeeper.
The back four then became Bow Jackson, Lydia Huntley, Mollie Taylor and the returning Faye Ivall after six weeks out. Ebony Dover, Steph Beck and Leah Burridge occupied the midfield with Helen Bleazard, Natasha Knapman and development team player Lucy Solloway the front three.
Argyle were quick off the mark and in the fourth minute Helen Bleazard just fired wide before not long later she sent in a low hard cross but there were no takers.
West Brom then nearly benefitted from some poor defending by the hosts. The Baggies did get the ball in the net but it was ruled out for offside.
Argyle continued to look good and after a promising move involving the midfield three, Ebony Dover shot wide before two minutes later a long ball up field from Middleton deflected into the path of Bleazard, who fired against a post.
The hosts then lost Jackson, who was replaced Papaioannou, but Argyle continued to create chances and Bleazard hit the post again, this time from a corner, while Knapman headed just wide.
But against the run of play, West Brom took the lead. The Pilgrims defence failed to deal with an attack and Natalie Murray put the ball in the net.
Argyle then passed up another chance when Bleazard raced down the wing to find Knapman, who could not get a shot away but the ball went back to Bleazard, but her effort was comfortably saved.
Two minutes before half-time Bleazard was brought down in the penalty area by Hannah George but with regular spot-kick taker Middleton in goal Bleazard took the penalty only for her effort to be saved low by goalkeeper Vanessa Kinnerley.
However, Bleazard made amends two minutes later when her shot from the edge of the penalty area flew low into the corner of the net to level the scores.
In the second half the game then became end to end with both teams missing chances.
In extra-time, the game continued to stretch from end to end. A Jade Arber strike rattled the Argyle crossbar but the game looked to be heading for penalty kicks when, with just five minutes remaining, Nymoen reacted the quickest to score what proved to be the match winner.
Argyle’s manager Dave Leonard was bitterly disappointed. He said: “It was very disappointing but I couldn’t ask for anymore than what the girls are giving us.
“We’ve got seven first team players missing and every week I’m trying to put square pegs in round holes. As much as I’ve asked the girls to play various positions it does come at a cost. They are giving it their all and I can’t ask for anymore for what they are giving.”
He added: “There was nothing between the two sides and it was probably only going to be a lucky strike.”
In the South West League Western Division, Argyle’s development team, playing only their third game in 13 weeks, beat Alphinton 5-3 to stay top of the table.
Alphington travelled to Plymouth with a severely depleted side but they put in an impressive performance.
The young Pilgrims took the lead through top scorer Nicola Champion after finally putting a decent passage of play together.
Argyle lost influential midfielder Ellie Bishop in the opening 20 minutes and that gave a debut to 16-year-old Rosie Shipp, who marked the occasion by scoring at the near post after a cross-field ball from Jodie Randall.
Despite being two goals to the good, Argyle’s youngsters continued to struggle to get a decent foothold in the game and always looked vulnerable when Alphington attacked.
Hannah Brock almost increased their lead when she met a corner full on, but her header flew just over the crossbar. Shortly after a Kiara Robins through ball found Champion, who added her second and Argyle’s third just before half-time.
The second period did not get off to the best of starts for Argyle as a short free-kick left Helen Kukor with a clear run at goal and, despite a valiant attempt from substitute goalkeeper Massie Frickleton, Alphington’s deadly striker squeezed home.
However, within three minutes Champion grabbed her third goal of the game when she turned in a through ball from Shipp.
Two minutes later a corner from Rachel Heron was headed in by Hannah Brock to put the Greens 5-1 in front.
Argyle enjoyed a real purple patch and Champion, Beth Cowd, Shipp and Dee Newman all had efforts that could have increased their lead.
But it was Alphington who struck next when a defensive mix up allowed Laura Burwood to score.
And three minutes later Alphington reduced the arrears further when they scored a deserved third through Kukor.
However, Argyle were able to see the game out for a hard-earned victory.
Manager Rob Bonney said: “I can’t praise our opponents enough with the application and effort they put in. They are a credit to their club.
“Not taking anything away from them, but our performance gave them all the encouragement they needed.
“We were poor in so many areas and the girls know it. One of our players actually commented that if Alphington had 11 players they would have turned us over. As a manager you can only admire their honesty as players.”
Coach Ryan Lawton added: “We lost all our shape when we were 5-1 up. The naivety of the players showed with players charging forward and all wanting to score. Hopefully the youngsters will learn from this.”
Bonney had the final word when he said: “The positives are we played a lot of the second half with eight 16 year-olds and two 17 year-olds and they managed to see the game through. It’s all experience for them. We managed to get three points but we were certainly nowhere near our best, we learn from it and we move on.”
Argyle Development: Maddie Walsh (Massie Frickleton), Rachel Heron, Rachel Javan (Maddy Leppard), Leah Johnson, Jodie Randall (Isla Brumhead), Hannah Brock (Dee Newman), Kiara Robins, Milan Barros, Ellie Bishop (Rosie Shipp), Nicola Champion, Beth Cowd.