A SECOND-HALF fightback couldn’t prevent Swindon Town’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy campaign coming to an abrupt end at Home Park.
Swindon, who were 3-0 down at half-time after gift-wrapping two goals for Lewis Alessandra and one for Deane Smalley, reduced arrears thanks to efforts from substitutes Michael Smith and Ben Gladwin in the second period, while Jack Stephens hit a post in stoppage time.
However, they couldn’t quite complete the comeback and Argyle progressed to the next round.
Town got off to the worst possible start in the fourth minute, as Alessandra fired the hosts in front. A pass out of defence came straight back from the Plymouth midfield, giving Alessandra a free run on goal.
Having survived several offside shouts, the Pilgrims striker had the simple task of tucking the ball past Ty Belford to hand Plymouth the lead.
Andy Williams and Jack Barthram both spurned good chances to fire the Robins level but neither could force Luke McCormick into a save and, with just a quarter of the match gone, Swindon ended up finding themselves two goals down.
Connor Waldon strangely left Belford’s pass out of defence and Plymouth seized possession, picking out Smalley on the edge of the box. The former Oxford United striker beat Belford with contempt from 18 yards.
In search of a speedy response, Williams drew McCormick into an excellent, finger-tip stop with a 20-yard drive, while Anton Rodgers saw his free-kick from similar range saved low to his left by the Argyle stopper.
Despite controlling much of the game for the opening period and seeming totally at ease with ball at feet in midfield, Town were three goals behind at half-time. A simple chipped long ball did for the Robins, as Alessandra broke the offside trap, shrugged off the attention of Nathan Thompson and beat Belford.
Mark Cooper threw on George Barker, Smith and Gladwin early in the second half in an effort to shift the direction of the tie and Smith tested McCormick with a low shot after Reeves and Barker combined neatly down the right in the 60th minute.
Smith then headed narrowly over from Gladwin’s left-wing cross before the substitute striker pulled a goal back from the penalty spot.
Barker was upended carelessly by Kelvin Mellor in the box and Smith beat McCormick, despite the home keeper diving in the right direction.
Smith, whose introduction completely changed the dynamic of the match, missed two good headed chances before Gladwin reduced arrears further with less than three minutes left of the 90.
The former Marlow man picked up possession just outside the box and his dipping effort totally fooled McCormick.
When McCormick denied Reeves in stoppage time it seemed for all the world as though Stephens would knock in the rebound but the former Plymouth trainee toe-poked against the frame of the goal and Argyle hung on.