CHRISTMAS arrived a day late for the long-suffering Green Army but the main present easily surpassed all those goodies under the tree.
Gary Sawyer ended a run of five defeats and five games without a goal to secure a splendid Boxing Day victory at Cardiff City's plush new stadium.
Argyle defended superbly for 84 minutes in which Rory Fallon ruffled every Bluebird feather he could find in a fine display of robust centre-forward play before a poor clearance from the hosts fell to Sawyer, who skittled a low drive into the far corner, via a slight deflection.
Goalkeeper Romain Larrieu and midfielder Alan Judge both recovered from a bout of pre-Christmas flu to take their places in a side that saw two personnel changes from last weekend's 1-0 defeat to Coventry City.
Shane Lowry and David Gray completed their loan stints against the Sky Blues, forcing Head Coach Paul Mariner into a defensive reshuffle. Darcy Blake, on loan from Cardiff, was ineligible and David McNamee not recovered from injury, prompting Mariner to shift Karl Duguid to the right-back slot vacated by Gray.
Sawyer was recalled to left-back in place of Lowry and the midfield slot previously occupied by Duguid was filled by Luke Summerfield, who returned from a successful loan spell at Leyton Orient in midweek.
On the bench, Cillian Sheridan replaced Joe Mason and Sawyer's empty seat was given to Chris Barker for his first inclusion in an Argyle squad for the season. The former Bluebird finally declared fit after suffering a crippling calf injury in pre-season.
Cardiff boss Dave Jones had the luxury of naming the same team that defeated Middlesbrough 1-0 a fortnight ago. A frozen pitch scuppered their scheduled clash with Leicester last weekend, which gave midfielder Peter Whittingham extra time to recover from the injury that forced him off early at the Riverside.
Whittingham has scored an incredible 14 goals from midfield this season and, with the ominous strike-pairing of Jay Bothroyd and Michael Chopra adding 18 between them, it was sure to be a stern defensive test for the Greens. Three of Chopra's goals came in Cardiff's impressive 3-1 win at Home Park in August.
Despite the daunting statistics, Argyle started the game with admirable confidence for a side rooted to the bottom of the table and nearly stunned the hosts with what would have been the first Green goal in over five games.
The chance stemmed from a Carl Fletcher free-kick that deflected out wide to Kári Árnason. The Icelandic defender showed his natural midfield instincts to pivot and swing over a deep cross for the late run of Sawyer, who clasped his head in hands as the first-time volley bounced into the turf and narrowly wide of the far post.
The steady Green flow was halted by an unfortunate clash between Duguid and Réda Johnson that left both Pilgrims nursing festive headaches. FIFA regulations then forced the two men to temporarily leave the pitch, meaning Argyle had to defend the subsequent set-piece with nine men.
It was enough to awaken Cardiff from their Christmas slumber and Larrieu had to produce an extraordinary save to tip over Mark Hudson's bullet header from a Whittingham free-kick. The following corner had Árnason and Duguid scrambling to clear at the back post, as the Bluebirds began to turn up the heat.
Larrieu was in action again moments later, flinging his French frame to the right to push away a terrific strike from distance by the increasingly influential Whittingham. Anthony Gerrard was next to be denied, with Larrieu comfortably scooping up his low drive.
Argyle weathered the storm and there were promising signs at the other end with Fallon causing the defensive partnership of Gerrard and Mark Hudson problems with his height and strength. It just needed Jamie Mackie to tune in to the big man's intentions for a possible avenue of success for the Pilgrims.
Fallon's determined performance probably owed as much to our position in the league as it did to his status as a former Swansea player, and thus not exactly Mr Popular with the Cardiff fans. The Kiwi's exuberance earned him a yellow card for a foul on Gerrard on 28 minutes and he was very lucky to avoid a double-whammy following more antagonism just seconds after his first indiscretion.
The game was suddenly in danger of turning nasty and Bothroyd soon joined the yellow party after a crude late challenge on Duguid.
To their credit, Argyle were the first to resettle and a half-cleared cross from Árnason found its way to Judge on the right-edge of the penalty area. The Irishman sized-up the opening with his first touch before unleashing a fierce drive with his second, but David Marshall had his angles all worked out to turn the effort wide.
Fallon's display continued to test the patience of the officials but Cardiff were visibly struggling to cope with the robust approach, and another excellent knock-down fell to Mackie on the six-yard line. The former Grecian surprisingly opted for the extra touch the Championship simply does not allow.
An eventful first-half ended with Larrieu and Hudson scuffling for a delicious Whittingham corner that somehow beat both men to drift harmlessly wide. Given the pre-match concern, it was a fine defensive performance for the Greens, and Fallon even managed to sign-off the half by upsetting the natives, again.
Season of goodwill and all that - I don't think so.
Half-time did little to reduce the frantic pace and Árnason and Johnson were soon required to make excellent blocks before a spinning Bothroyd drifted a shot narrowly wide.
Moments later, Bothroyd exploited a massive hole in the Argyle defence to tee-up Chopra for the best chance of the afternoon. Larrieu advanced in hope but Chopra's cheeky chip had too much juice, and sailed inches over the bar.
The Fallon approach continued to be Argyle's best line of attack and yet another cushioned pass found the surge from midfield by Summerfield, and the youngster was unlucky to see his powerful low shot skirt the wrong side of Marshall's post.
The Greens survived an almighty scare as the second-half reached its halfway point. Larrieu's save from a Whittingham free-kick fell to Gerrard, who smashed the ball back across goal for Bothroyd but he had not time to react as the ball then smashed off his shins and wide of the gaping goal.
Mariner decided the time was right to bulk up his midfield by replacing Judge with Yoann Folly. The Togolese international barely had his boots muddy before Fallon caught Mackie in the face with a stray boot. Referee Peter Gibbs rightly stopped play but the cruel irony was that the loose ball rolled to Chris Clark for a glorious opportunity.
Tempers were raised again when Cardiff substitute Ross McCormack cracked a terrific long-range shot into the side-netting. Something must have happened in the build-up, however, as the normally-placid Johnson chased after the impish Scot, prompting a melee of Green and Blue handbags. Not for the first time, Mr Gibbs did superbly well to calmly diffuse the situation.
As the game ebbed ever closer to the draw every Green would have taken before kick-off, Sawyer grabbed all three points with a deflected strike after poor defending by the hapless Gerrard.
Argyle nerves were soon facing a massive test, as Whittingham lined-up a free-kick from just 20-yards out. Larrieu, thankfully, was on hand to parry the effort wide and keep a wonderful result on target. Cardiff's last chance fell to Joe Ledley, who steered Whittingham's low cross inches wide.
Cardiff (4-4-2): 1 David Marshall; 14 Paul Quinn (27 Adam Mathhews 86), 5 Mark Hudson (capt), 15 Anthony Gerrard, 2 Kevin McNaughton; 7 Peter Whittingham, 4 Gavin Rae, 16 Joe Ledley, 11 Chris Burke (17 Kelvin Etuhu 64); 8 Michael Chopra (44 Ross McCormack 71), 9 Jay Bothroyd. Substitutes (not used): 3 Mark Kennedy, 6 Gabor Gyepes, 18 Solomon Taiwo, 20 Peter Enckelman (gk).
Booked: Bothroyd 33
Argyle (4-4-2): 1 Romain Larrieu; 2 Karl Duguid, 11 Kári Árnason, 22 Réda Johnson, 18 Gary Sawyer; 25 Alan Judge (31 Yoann Folly 72), 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 20 Luke Summerfield, 6 Chris Clark; 8 Jamie Mackie, 14 Rory Fallon. Substitutes (not used): 15 Chris Barker, 17 Craig Noone, 21 Cillian Sheridan, 23 Kyle Letheren (gk), 24 Ashley Barnes, 26 Alan Gow.
Booked: Johnson 18, Fallon 29, Larrieu 48, Fletcher 68
Referee: Peter Gibbs (West Midlands).