Coventry City 1
IT might be a little too early in the season to call this game a relegation scrap, but it looked like one and, to paraphrase the famous observation, if it looks like one and smells like one, then it must be one.
New Head Coach Paul Mariner's home debut followed a similar pattern to his bow seven days previously, with the Pilgrims emerging after a poor first half all round and looking capable of putting a much needed home win on the board.
They were denied from doing this by Coventry striker Freddy Eastwood, who was on the end of a breakaway goal midway through the second half.
Mariner had stayed faithful to the system that had clicked splendidly into gear after a disappointing first 45 minutes at Preston the week before, although the personnel was changed through choice and necessity.
The 4-3-1-2, with Alan Judge 'in the hole' behind Rory Fallon and Jamie Mackie, had looked incapable of achieving anything except heaping more misery on the heads of all Pilgrims before the interval at Deepdale, by which time the home side led 2-0 going on.
The second half was a complete contrast, however, with Preston taking a battering, barely looking like adding to their first-half tally. The only thing missing was a goal, a familiar complaint this season. Mariner believes the new system will rectify that failing.
His faith was reflected in an unchanged front six, with only both full-backs changed from the visit to Lancashire: David Gray overcame injury to replace Darcy Blake on the right - fortuitously, as it turned out, as the Welshman failed to pass muster - while Shane Lowry returned from suspension to oust Gary Sawyer from the left. Réda Johnson, who shone on his full debut seven days earlier, retained his place in the centre of defence.
Coventry, who won for the first time in 11 attempts the previous weekend, beating Peterborough at the Ricoh Arena thanks to an Eastwood hat-trick made only one. That came in defence, where the suspended Stephen Wright was replaced as player and as captain, by James McPake.
The lively Mackie represented the Pilgrims' most potent early threat, proving quite a handful for Patrick van Aanholt.
His persistence took him past the Coventry left-back on one occasion, and allowed him to loose off a shot after cutting back from the bye-line. Leon Barnett blocked the attempt.
Coventry looked like a side that had not won away from the Ricoh in their previous five attempts but Eastwood carried a threat every time he was fed the ball.
It needed a fine last-minute intervention from Lowry to prevent Michael McIndoe from capitalising on one Eastwood break down Argyle's left that ended with a low cross into the danger area.
Generally, though, solid gold chances were few and far between for either hard-working side.
The Pilgrims survived a problem of their own making after Johnson and his centre-back partner Kári Árnason collided while trying to execute what should have been a fairly routine clearance with the result that Eastwood found himself in the clear with the ball.
The former Southend and Wolves man elected to take his chance early, shooting from distance, rather than taking the ball on, and his shoot never troubled Romain Larrieu.
Argyle had an even bigger let-off in first-half injury-time after Larrieu made a Christmas pudding of Eastwood's hopeful, and tame, shot.
The ball spilled to McIndoe, whose shot was brilliantly blocked by Árnason, but it looked curtains when the roll favoured Leon Barnett. The Coventry defender snatched at his opportunity and spooned a shot high over an open an unguarded goal.
The same Devonport end saw Carl Fletcher go close after the break when Coventry goalkeeper Keireen Westwood failed to deal emphatically with an Árnason long throw. The Argyle captain returned the ball with interest from the edge of the penalty area, but Westwood redeemed himself with a good block.
Then Fallon twice went close with headers as, first, Judge from the right, and then Lowry on the left, found some width despite the narrowness of the system.
Sensing the momentum that Argyle were building, Mariner sent on the cavalry in the shape Craig Noone, and the Liverpudlian helped maintain the pressure on the visitors with a succession of corners.
Coventry had barely been inside the Pilgrims' half so it was almost inevitable that, on their first meaningful visit to the Barn Park penalty area resulted in a goal.
It was a good one, too. A fine cross, by David Bell, and the perfect execution by Eastwood, a powerful header beyond the grasp of Larrieu.
Argyle rallied and went close to an equaliser when Fallon had a shot deflected just wide from ten yards, and went even closer when Árnason's header was blocked on the line by Bell.
When Westwood made a fine save to thwart the Icelander in injury-time, Argyle's position at the bottom of the Championship was confirmed.
Argyle (4-3-3): 1 Romain Larrieu; 39 David Gray, 22 Réda Johnson, 11 Kári Árnason,37 Shane Lowry; 2 Karl Duguid, 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 6 Chris Clark (17 Craig Noone 67); 25 Alan Judge (26 Alan Gow 85), 14 Rory Fallon, 8 Jamie Mackie. Substitutes (not used): 18 Gary Sawyer, 23 Kyle Letheren (gk), 24 Ashley Barnes, 31 Yoann Folly, 32 Joe Mason.
Booked: Fallon 68.
Coventry City (4-4-2): 1 Keiren Westwood; 15 Martin Cranie, 6 james McPake (capt, Elliott Ward 72), 22 Leon Barnett, 12 Patrick Van Aanholt; 7 David Bell, 17 Aron Gunnarsson, 18 Jack Cork, 21 Michael McIndoe; 9 Leon Best (19 Gary Madine 90), 10 Freddy Eastwood (11 Clinton Morrison 84). Substitutes (not used): 14 Chris Hussey, 20 Ben Turner, 23 Daniel Ireland (gk), 34 Jermaine Grandison, 36 Sean Jeffers.
Booked: Gunnarsson 66, Barnett 68.
Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire).
Attendance: 8,347 (404 away).