ARGYLE put in a performance to be proud of as they pushed Aston Villa all the way in a pulsating FA Youth Cup third round tie on Tuesday night.
Three times Villa took the lead, only for the battling Pilgrims to equalise on each occasion.
However, a 74th minute strike from midfielder Khalid Abdo proved to be the difference between the sides at the final whistle.
It was 2-2 at half-time, with centre-back Aaron Bentley and midfielder River Allen scoring superb goals for Argyle.
Then, captain Ben Purrington made it 3-3 in the 57th minute with a header from a corner, before Villa started to get on top in the closing half an hour.
It was an excellent advertisement for youth football, and was played out in the superb setting of Villa Park.
Argyle started the match by playing a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Allen the defensive shield for centre-backs Bentley and Nathan Summers.
Allen and Bentley had both recovered from ankle injuries to play in the third round tie.
Louis Rooney was the lone striker for the Pilgrims, with Callum Hall and Sol Wheatley providing the attacking width.
Wheatley scored a hat-trick when Argyle won 4-1 at home to Bristol Academy in round one.
Villa Park under floodlights was a spectacular venue for the FA Youth Cup clash, and it turned out to be an occasion to remember for the Pilgrims.
Argyle assistant manager Gary Owers was among the crowd in the Trinity Road Stand.
It took Villa, three times winners of the FA Youth Cup and runners-up in 2010, only seven minutes to take the lead.
A free-kick from midfielder Henry Cowans was directed towards goal by striker Thomas Strain.
The last touch might have come off Bentley but, either way, ‘keeper Andrew Hannah was powerless to prevent the ball ending up in the net.
Argyle responded positively to the early setback and Rooney went close to equalising in the ninth minute.
He sent a looping header over ‘keeper Dylan Forth but the ball was headed away for a corner by left-back Courtney Wildin before it could cross the line.
The Pilgrims did equalise in the 19th minute, though, when Villa could not clear another long free-kick into their box.
The ball dropped to Bentley and he smashed a volley into the top corner of the net for a goal which graced the splendid surroundings.
It was a goal which he will remember for the rest of his life, no matter what else he achieves in football.
Villa striker Jerrell Sellars had a low shot pushed wide by Hannah for a corner shortly before the half-hour mark. But the highly-rated Villa prospect was not to be denied a goal and he put the home side 2-1 up in the 35th minute.
Sellars skilfully cut inside from the right and beat Hannah with a low left-foot shot from 15 yards.
It took Argyle only three minutes to equalise, though, and with another superb goal, this time from Allen.
The Pilgrims were awarded a free-kick on the corner of the penalty area and Allen crashed the ball into the opposite top corner of the net.
In a very entertaining, end-to-end contest, Villa twice went close to restoring their lead before half-time.
Cowans – the son of Gordon, the former European Cup winner for Villa – fired narrowly wide from a free-kick.
Then, in stoppage time, Hannah produced an excellent reflex save to parry away a close range header from Strain.
Bentley had a chance to put the Pilgrims ahead at the start of the second half, following a free-kick into the box.
The centre-back eluded Villa’s offside trap but could not head the ball on target.
Sellars then sped clear of the Argyle defence but his shot was kicked away by Hannah in another fine save.
Villa pushed forward strongly as Sellars had another shot which rebounded off the crossbar.
Then, moments later, a deflected 20-yard shot from midfielder Ryan Strain beat the despairing dive of Hannah and put Villa 3-2 up.
Back came Argyle again, however. Their third goal came in the 57th minute when a deep corner from Allen was headed home at the far post by Purrington.
Hannah made a good one-on-one save to deny Thomas Strain as chances continued to be created by both teams.
Villa centre-back Jordan Lyden headed over the bar from a Cowans corner before the hosts went 4-3 up.
The goal came in the 74th minute as Abdo drilled a 20-yard shot into the bottom left corner of the net.
Villa had belatedly but finally got on top of the Pilgrims, who struggled to get the ball into opposition territory as the game entered its closing stages.
They did have one chance in stoppage time when substitute Ethan Stark broke forward but his shot was superbly blocked by Lyden.
So it was Villa who moved into the fourth round, but Argyle academy manager Kevin Hodges and coach Shaun Taylor must have been very proud of their players.
ARGYLE: Andrew Hannah; Mason Hughes, Nathan Summers (Tom Moxham h/t), Aaron Bentley, Ben Purrington; River Allen; Sol Wheatley, Kieran Asumadu-Sakyi (Will Sargent 75 mins), Jake Miller, Callum Hall; Louis Rooney (Ethan Stark 77 mins).
Substitutes (not used): Josh Hutchinson, Cory Harvey (gk).
ASTON VILLA: Dylan Forth; Tomas Zazrivec (Daniel O’Brien 75 mins), Jordan Lyden, Kodi Lyons-Foster, Courtney Wildin; Ryan Strain, Khalid Abdo, Henry Cowans, Riccardo Calder; Thomas Strain (Harry McKirdy 79 mins), Jerell Sellars (Andre Green 82 mins).
Substitutes (not used): Charlie Bannister (gk), Corey Taylor.
REFEREE: Chris Husband
GOALS – Aston Villa: T Strain 7 mins, Sellars 35 mins, R Strain 54 mins, Abdo 74 mins; Argyle: Bentley 19 mins, Allen 38 mins, Purrington 57 mins