So for the fourth time in two years City play the team that apparently wouldn't ever play them again, and for the third time in those four games the plucky minnows from Exeter prevailed against the sleeping giants of Westcountry football eventually running out easy 3-0 winners in the penalty shoot-out after finishing all square at one apiece at the end of normal time. City lined up: Pidgeley; Golbourne, Duffy, Coles, Tully; Archibald-Henville, Noble, Dunne; Nardiello, Nichols, Vine.
After a spate of recent home matches, and fierce local rivals Plymouth's slump to the foot of League Two, it wasn't entirely surprising that only 3940 turned up for the two clubs' fourth meeting in two seasons, this time in the opening round of this season's Johnstone's Paint Trophy. And with City lining up in a rather attacking 4-3-3 formation, it was of little surprise that it was City who started brightest. Less than a minute had expired before Pidgeley sent a booming kick downfield that was headed behind for a corner after the first bounce. Noble swung the ball in where Coles rose unchallenged 10 yards out to butt the ball narrowly over the bar.
Eight minutes later City earned another corner, and once again it was Noble who swung it in where Troy showed great strength outmuscling a defender to guide a downward header just wide of the far post. After that though, the game descended into two midfields outmidfielding each other and both defences easily getting the better of their opposing attacks.
City's best chance to break the deadlock came in the 27th minute when Dunne fed the ball out to Nardiello in the left corner of the box, but he screwed his shot horribly wide when well placed. In the 40th minute Troy from out wide on the righted whipped in a wicked ball across the edge of the six yard box, but unfortunately it had just a little too much on it as it evaded both Vine and Nardiello as they slid in looking to convert.
But a minute later City were in front. A foul on Nardiello just in front of the players' tunnel gave Noble the opportunity to fizz the ball low into the box where Dunne flicked it goalwards through a crowd of players. The keeper must have been completely unsighted as it bobbled past him, but that was of little concern to Dunne and his team mates as he wheeled away in celebration putting City 1-0 up for the second successive game against Plymouth.
Plymouth's efforts on goal had been limited to speculative efforts that ended up high on the Bank, but on the stroke of half time Pidgeley certainly earned his corn after being largely a spectator for the previous 44 minutes and 58 seconds. A decent Argyle move ended up with the ball being crossed into the box for a bullet header from ten yards looking all the world to be dipping just under the bar before Pidgely spectacularly sprung across his goal to tip the ball away to safety.
In the second half Plymouth looked to make much more of a fist of it than they had in the first half with Luke Daley robbing a hesitant Troy in midfield before marching through on goal. His fierce low drive was parried well by Pidgeley pouncing low to his left before Duffy tidied up the loose stuff, but there was little Pidge could do about Daley's second effort sixty seconds later. Breaking at speed down the left channel Daley cut inside before unleashing a ferocious dipping swerving shot into the opposite top corner, in not too dissimilar fashion to Ashley Young's fine efforts at the weekend in the Manchester United v Arsenal game, to level the game at one apiece.
In the 21st minute Vine was withdrawn and Shephard introduced as City reverted to a 4-4-2 formation, then six minutes later City worked their first real opportunity of the half when Nardiello cut in from the left to hit a sharp first time snap shot straight at the keeper. With ten minutes to go the hard working Nichols made way for Logan, but for the remainder of a largely uneventful and uninspiring half neither side could muster a decent effort on goal.
This season's competition's rules state that there'll be no extra time, so with the sides drawing 1-1 at the final whistle it was straight to the dreaded penalty shoot-out. Up stepped Nardiello to take City's first, and he did so with some aplomb driving the ball confidently low to the keeper's left as he dived right to put City 1-0 up.
Robbie Williams strode forward to take Plymouth's first penalty, but with Pidgeley guessing correctly and diving to his left Williams smashed the ball onto the base of the post and away to keep it 1-0.
Next it was Noble who guided the ball home chest height to the keeper's right as he went left to put City 2-0 up, then it was Carl Fletcher's turn to try and pull one back for Argyle. He smashed the ball hard to Pidgeley's right just above waist height but once again City's keeper guessed right pulling off the save of the night - if not the season - to claw the ball away and maintain City's 2-0 lead.
Shephard then hit one low to the centre of the goal that Larrieu gratefully plunged onto to keep it 2-0 before Tom Hitchcock had the chance to reduce the arrears with Plymouth's third penalty. He hit it low to Pidgeley's right, but once again Pidgeley guessed correctly sprawling to his right to pull off another great save turning the ball around the post.
All that remained was for Dunne to keep his cool, which he did gleefully smashing the ball waist height to the keeper's left as he dived low to the right to send City through 3-0 to the second round of their second successive cup competition.
So on we go, hopefully once again on a JPT Cup run, perhaps this year going one better than last year's area final exit. Along with their League Cup efforts, it's all money in the bank, as well as breeding a winning mentality should you make it through a few rounds. Two wins on the bounce now too, so hopefully the lads can take that mini run of form back to the league where they visit Hartlepool and Charlton before the visits of Notts County and Bournemouth to the Park in mid September.
It might not have been the best derby ever witnessed, it might not have been full of blood and thunder or countless goal attempts, but thanks to a strong defence and an outstanding first full game for the club from Lennie Pidgeley, City won nonetheless. Added to that decent performances from the ever impressive looking Noble and dependable Duffy, and the emergence of youngsters Shephard and Nichols, there's still plenty to look forward to and plenty to enthuse over in the coming weeks, including hopefully an ever reducing injury list, rather than the seemingly ever increasing one we appear to have been enduring of late.