Bristol City 3
Haynes 72, McCombe 76, Maynard 79
ARGYLE came out the wrong end of an extraordinary seven minutes at Bristol City to lose 3-1 in a fabulous Westcountry Derby.
After 72 minutes of engaging football without score-sheet reward, Danny Haynes gave City the lead from a superb cross-field pass by Jamie McAllister.
The Pilgrims immediately equalised through a stunning Jamie Mackie strike, but the Green Army barely had time to celebrate before Jamie McCombe restored City's lead with a simple header. Nicky Maynard completed Argyle's misery with a third for City three minutes later.
It was a cruel end for the Pilgrim after playing their full part in a terrific match, but credit to City for continuing to sweep forward in defiance of Argyle's determined display at a drenched Ashton Gate.
Argyle manager Paul Sturrock made three changes to his starting troops following the disappointment of Saturday's lacklustre performance in the 2-0 defeat at Blackpool.
The big surprise was the inclusion of Ashley Barnes in attack for his first appearance of the season. Kiwi Rory Fallon was the unlucky man dropped down to the bench.
The other two changes came in wide positions where Alana Judge and Chris Clark were given their opportunity to impress ahead of Jim Paterson and Darcy Blake. There was one more alteration on the bench, with Yoann Folly replacing David McNamee.
Bristol City also decided to freshen up their side after battling out a 1-1 draw with Peterborough United at Ashton Gate on the weekend.
Veteran defender Louis Carey dropped down to bench duty after making an incredible 550th appearance for the Robins against the Posh. McCombe was his experienced replacement.
City manager Gary Johnson also rested midfielders Marvin Elliott and son Lee. Scottish international Paul Hartley was instead given the nod along with flying former Ipswich winger Haynes.
Argyle's soon-to-be-confirmed new Head Coach Paul Mariner joined Luggy in the dug-out as the traditional monsoon conditions that have accompanied the last four Westcountry Derbies swept across the saturated Ashton Gate pitch.
In defiance of the bleak conditions, Argyle made a bright start, and Shane Lowry forced home 'keeper Dean Gerken into a smart low save with a snap-shot on four minutes after Mackie had created space in the area following an incisive run down the left by Gary Sawyer.
The Barnes-Mackie combination, which had shown great promise toward the end of last season, immediately looked positive for Luggy, and Argyle's impressive tempo in the opening exchanges was hugely welcome after the dirge of Bloomfield Road on the weekend.
Barnes, clearly enthused by his own start to the game, received a short inside pass from Judge on 15 minutes, swivelled instinctively and rifled a searing left-foot drive past Gerken's upright - confident stuff from a young man who has endured a frustratingly inactive start to the season.
It was further testament to Argyle's invigorated approach that City's threat in the opening quarter of the game was limited to set-piece situations.
The two solid banks of four deployed by Luggy were proving a frustration to the home side and, when one move broke down, Karl Duguid released Mackie with a stunning 40-yard pass over the defence, but Argyle's Mr Enthusiasm took too long to pick his spot, and McCombe made a fine recovery tackle.
Clark, another man impressing after an indifferent start to the campaign, then swung in a cross from the left that found the chest of Judge in the box, but he stumbled as the brief opportunity to test Gerken slipped away.
Johnson was forced into making a change on 30 minutes, with Costa Rican international Alvaro Saborio limping out of the action to be replaced by Carey. It was a change that allowed the Robins' boss to reshuffle his under-performing side.
The jiggery-pokery gave Dutch midfielder Evander Sno a more advanced role for City, and he almost capitalised immediately, breaking forward unchecked to send a scuttling shot into the grateful arms of Romain Larrieu.
Inevitably, City were beginning to play as a home side should, and Hartley had the natives rising in unison with a bullet-strike from fully 35-yards that shaved Larrieu's right-hand stanchion.
Argyle's first mistake of the evening arrived on 41 minutes and from the unlikeliest source. Captain Carl Fletcher hesitated 30-yards from his own goal, was swiftly robbed and the ball instantly threaded forward to Haynes who, mercifully, dragged his low shot beyond the advancing Larrieu's far post.
It was the last meaningful act of an engrossing first period. Argyle can be proud of their performance, especially in the opening 30 minutes, but City deserve credit for imposing an improved attacking threat after Johnson's enforced reshuffle.
The restart saw Barnes' physical prowess trouble the City defence once again and he just needed a more accurate pass from Mackie to sneak in behind the home rearguard. The Robins responded with a Lewin Nyatanga header from a McAllister corner that flew narrowly over.
The temperature inside Ashton Gate appeared to rise in the early stages of the second period, as both sides continued to play high-tempo, committed football. Mackie and Barnes steered ambitious long-rangers beyond Gerken's goal. Maynard, twice, did the same for City.
The heavens added further spice to an increasingly absorbing encounter by unloading another bucket-load of rain on an already slick surface. All the ingredients were in place for an exciting climax to a high-quality Derby.
Hartley was given the chance to set the tone for that climax with a free-kick in a central position, and a mere 20-yards from goal. His deft curling effort bypassed the Argyle wall and Larrieu could only watch in stranded hope as the ball drifted a foot wide of the post.
As City grew in stature, Johnson added further fresh legs in the shape of Gavin Williams and Ivan Sproule. Nyatanga and Sno, surprisingly, given his influence on the game, were then men to make way. Luggy responded by introducing Fallon for the tiring Barnes, who can be proud of his display.
Brave Green hearts were then broken by a superb McAllister cross from the left that evaded the retreating Argyle defence to perfectly pick out the back-post run of Haynes, who had the simplest of finishes from five-yards.
After such a battling display, it would have been easy for Luggy's embattled troops to crumble under a City siege. Instead, they immediately equalised with a genuine contender for Goal of the Season.
Mackie raced onto a clever Fallon flick and thrashed an unbelievable drive in off the underside of Gerken's crossbar from the right edge of the penalty area. Wonderful stuff, but Green joy was short-lived.
City shrugged off the disappointment of being pegged back by restoring their lead. Skipper McCombe was left unmarked from a Sproule corner to plant a comfortable header beyond Larrieu.
Disappointment turned to desolation within three minutes. A harmless throw-in from the left trundled its way to Maynard, who steered a well-placed left-foot shot past Argyle shell-shocked custodian.
Despite the understandable disillusion in Green ranks, Fletcher continued to drive his team forward and even had Gerken scampering anxiously across his goal after a searing strike from distance.
At no point did Argyle heads drop and Luggy will be proud of the performance, if not the result, and Mariner now knows that this squad is not lacking in the departments of character and commitment.
It was an excellent game, graced with a brilliant goal by Mackie and spoiled, from our perspective, by clinical finishing from Bristol City.
Bristol City (4-4-2): 22 Dean Gerken; 2 Bradley Orr, 5 Jamie McCombe (capt), 32 Lewin Nyatanga (15 Gavin Williams 66), 3 Jamie McAllister; 31 Danny Haynes, 14 Cole Skuse, 29 Evander Sno (17 Ivan Sproule 66), 11 Paul Hartley; 10 Nicky Maynard, 33 Alvaro Saborio (6 Louis Carey 30). Substitutes (not used): 7 Marvin Elliott, 8 Lee Johnson, 9 David Clarkson, 35 Adriano Basso (gk).
Argyle (4-4-2): 1 Romain Larrieu; 39 David Gray, 5 Krisztián Timár, 37 Shane Lowry, 18 Gary Sawyer; 25 Alan Judge (26 Alan Gow 78), 2 Karl Duguid, 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 6 Chris Clark (21 Cillian Sheridan 88); 8 Jamie Mackie, 24 Ashley Barnes (14 Rory Fallon 70). Substitutes (not used): 3 Jim Paterson, 13 Darcy Blake, 23 Kyle Letheren (gk), 31 Yoann Folly.
Attendance: 15,021 (1,369 away).
Referee: Grant Hegley (Hertfordshire).