Welcomed on to the pitch as "the best team in the West Country", plucky Plymouth Argyle were forced in the end to play second fiddle to their humble Devon neighbours Exeter City, unable to add the jam to the richness of the Conference side's clotted-cream day at Old Trafford.
The good people of Plymouth are still convinced that the 1984 FA Cup final should have been between their local team - then in the Third Division - and Everton. Instead, their luck ran out in a tight semi-final and it was Elton John's Watford who strolled up the yellow brick road to Wembley. Twice since then, the Argyle have had the opportunity to show Everton what they are made of. In 1989 Howard Kendall's team were held 1-1 at Home Park before strolling through the replay; yesterday they fought back well after a brace of goals by Leon Osman and James McFadden, but, despite having the better of the second half, lacked the quality to carve out sufficient scoring chances.
So Bobby Williamson, Plymouth's manager, in his first FA Cup tie (though he once won the Scottish Cup with Kilmarnock) had every reason to be proud of his side, who lie 17th in the Championship. His compatriot David Moyes did not make the mistake of resting as many players as Sir Alex Ferguson, giving James Beattie the first 70 minutes of the match even though his £6m acquisition from Southampton had played only twice in two months because of a calf injury. In an otherwise undistinguished debut, Beattie had a hand in the first of two Everton goals in three minutes, was booked before half-time and missed a good chance to restore his team's two-goal lead after Bjarni Gudjonsson had hauled Plymouth back into the tie.
Everton are among the many clubs who rightly feel that the Christmas and New Year programme went a game too far, though with the grit that has characterised their season they kept going until the last minute of their last game in midweek, when Osman scored a winning goal against Portsmouth. Of the four regulars rested for that match, all except David Weir returned, while Thomas Gravesen and Tim Cahill took a turn at sitting in the dug-out.
Moyes declined to revert to a 4-4-2 system as expected, pushing Marcus Bent and McFadden wide instead, while Osman, Lee Carsley and Kevin Kilbane formed a compact central midfield trio. Bent looked a little lost and was keen to switch occasionally with Beattie, but McFadden, who has been urged by the manager to take his chance when given a run of games, was livelier.
It was a sign of the times that Plymouth's equivalent signing to Beattie, Scott Taylor, cost a mere £100,000 from Blackpool. He was cup-tied and with the Austrian international Mario Hass not yet on the books, the home side relied on the tried and travelled Micky Evans, who once left for Southampton as the club's most expensive sale before returning four years ago. Powerful, if not quick, he caused the less physical Joseph Yobo problems from the start and had a hand in Gudjonsson's goal.
A fruitless appeal for a penalty as Yobo challenged Evans was the only incident of any significance before Everton took the lead. Beattie, anonymous until that point, contributed an important touch, acting as the wall to knock Osman's pass back to him for the little midfielder to dink neatly past Plymouth's French goalkeeper Romain Larrieu. With only a couple more minutes played there was a second goal on the board. McFadden collected Alessandro Pistone's throw-in from the right and refused to be dispossessed in wriggling past some weak challenges before chalking up his second goal in three games.
But there's no discouragement, shall make a Pilgrim once relent. Lee Hodges had a strong drive pushed over the bar by Richard Wright, and 12 minutes before half-time, with Yobo receiving treatment off the pitch, Evans was able to flick on his goalkeeper's long clearance for Gudjonnson, who shot past Wright to give Argyle new hope.
It might have been dashed shortly before half-time but Beattie, having just been booked for a foul on Plymouth's Everton-supporting full-back Paul Connolly, scooped Pistone's cross over the bar as he slid on to it barely three yards out.
The Pilgrims' progress after the interval was steady, without forcing as many chances as an enthusiastic full house would have liked. David Friio, a busy little French midfielder, sent one effort over the bar and then did well to cross for Evans, who could not get his shot in quickly enough. Just after Beattie's removal there were more strong appeals for a penalty as McFadden put an arm across Connolly, but with five minutes to play Nick Chadwick, on as a substitute with Gravesen, benefited from a lucky break off Graham Coughlan to run on and end the home side's brave resistance.Reuse content