Derby County 0
JAMIE Mackie cost Argyle next to nothing and may well leave Home Park for a small fortune - with Derby rumoured to be amongst his suitors - but he came up with a priceless contribution to Argyle's fight against relegation.
Mackie smashed home a precise low shot from the edge of the Derby penalty area after Luke Summerfield's 35-yard free-kick had cannoned to him off the visitors' defensive wall to settle a game that was, by turns, dour and exciting, nervy and polished.
Derby will point to Paul Green's shot from deep inside the six-yard box that he crashed against a post when scoring looked the easier option as a potential match-turning moment, but not many who gasped in amazement at his profligacy will give a jot.
Both sides had showed three changes from the starting 11s that had been sent out for their previous encounters.
Argyle head coach Paul Mariner was able to recall striker Mackie, after flu and a secondary, sinus, infection, and centre-back Réda Johnson, after African Cup of Nations duty with Benin.
The tall defender, who was an unused substitute for his country's three group games, partnered Kári Árnason in the heart of the Pilgrims' defence, with Chris Barker dropping to one of the strongest looking Argyle benches of this tortured season.
Behind the pair was new loan signing David Stockdale, making his Pilgrims' debut in goal in place of French stalwart Romain Larrieu after coming to Home Park last week from Fulham.
Le Keeper and Ashley Barnes, who had started Argyle's previous home match against Crystal Palace ten days earlier, were also among the seven replacements. Not so Yoann Folly and Joe Mason, who had been involved on that occasion.
Derby manager Nigel Clough supplanted his front two in County's 1-0 FA Cup fourth-round win against Doncaster at the weekend, dropping Steve Davies and Chris Porter to the bench, and bringing in Rob Hulse, who always scores against the Pilgrims, and on-loan Leicester City striker Dudley Campbell, who had been prevented from playing in the Cup by his parent club.
The third change was at left-back, where James McEveley, who had scored the late winner against Doncaster after coming on as substitute, started in place of Dean Moxey.
The Derby bench included two former Pilgrims - Gary Teale and Russell Anderson - while a third, Paul Connolly, has fallen so far out of favour at Pride Park that he did not merit a place in the visitors' 18.
Shelly might have struggled to recognise his old stamping-ground, which, despite the very best efforts of Colin Wheatcroft and his willing band, currently has the consistency of porridge and the look of a half-dug allotment.
Given that, there was some pleasant football played by both sides in the opening quarter, without anything remotely approaching end-product.
Summerfield's prompting was to the fore of much of Argyle's early work, while Stockdale, although underinvolved, certainly made himself heard.
So, too, the smallest ever Championship crowd at Home Park, whose encouragement, and inevitable baiting of Derby captain Robbie Savage, added to a cup-tie feel of an open game - 'six-pointer' did not begin to describe its importance - being played on an uncertain surface.
The first clear opening fell to Hulse - literally, as the ball landed plumb at his feet on the left angle of the six-yard box after Argyle failed to clear. However, Karl Duguid dived in to deflect a powerful shot away from the target.
Almost immediately, the Pilgrims fashioned a similar chance of their own. Derby failed to deal with Árnason's long throw from the right and captain Carl Fletcher thumped a rising first-time drive from about 15 yards that flew over the Devonport end crossbar.
It was more than half an hour before either goalkeeper was called upon to intervene to prevent what otherwise would have been a goal, Derby goalkeeper Stephen Bywater easily clutching Summerfield's clipper from 25 yards.
Referee Andy Hall saw fit to call the two captains together for a word, although the game was far from naughty at that point. It got a little spicier just before the interval, when Nicky Hunt bundled into Gary Sawyer as the Pilgrims' left-back shepherded Savage's clueless pass away for a goal-kick.
Just before that, Derby had come within inches of taking the lead when Árnason, chasing back, ran Green's low cross into touch, shaving a goalpost as he did so. He will tell you he meant it, and it was either perfect timing or completely involuntary.
There was much more deliberation about the opening move of the second half, as Stephen Pearson broke on the right before playing in Hulse for a first-time shot that beat Stockdale but landed on the top of the Pilgrims' goal.
As the Pilgrims' best endeavours faltered on some imprecise deliveries, notably from set-pieces, the sub-8,000 crowd voiced their displeasure.
However, there were signs that the Pilgrims were getting closer to a valuable goal. Mackie fired narrowly over from a difficult angle after being well played in by Summrefield, and Rory Fallon was close to getting a goalscoring touch to Alan Judge's whipped-in low cross.
The arrival of Craig Noone from the replacements perked up the Pilgrims, and gave their dead-balls a bit of much-needed zip. Árnason went close with a header from a Summerfield corner, beating everyone to the delivery but failing to find the target.
Derby's attacks were sporadic but they nearly grabbed an opener against the run of play when Hulse again cutely made the near post for a flicked shot that he could not quite squeeze home.
Argyle had a huge let-off midway through the second half when they failed to clear their lines. Substitute Steve Davies's shot was blocked by Stockdale but the ball fell to Green barely two yards out. True, the angle was tight, but hitting the post was nigh on unforgiveable.
Hulse continued to be the pain in the backside he has been for Argyle over the years and made room for a half-hit shot that was nonetheless bound for the goal before Stockdale's leg prevented the ball's progress.
Then came Mackie's own glorious intervention.
Argyle (4-4-2): 21 David Stockdale; 2 Karl Duguid, 11 Kári Árnason, 22 Réda Johnson (15 Chris Barker 88), 18 Gary Sawyer; 25 Alan Judge (17 Craig Noone 62), 20 Luke Summerfield, 4 Carl Fletcher, 6 Chris Clark (16 David McNamee 87); 14 Rory Fallon, 8 Jamie Mackie. Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu, 10 Bradley Wright-Phillips, 24 Ashley Barnes, 26 Alan Gow.
Booked: Fallon 29, Sawyer 45.
Derby County (4-4-2): 1 Stephen Bywater; 24 Nicky Hunt, 14 Shaun Barker, 17 Jake Buxton, 3 Jay McEveley (10 Kris Commons 86); 4 Paul Green, 8 Robbie Savage, 19 Lee Johnson (21 Dean Moxey 64), 16 Stephen Pearson; 9 Rob Hulse, 32 Dudley Campbell (20 Stephen Davies 70). Substitutes (not used): 11 Gary Teale, 12 Chris Porter, 13 Saul Deeney (gk), 27 Russell Anderson.
Booked:McEveley 15, Pearson 38, Hunt 45, Savage 78, Buxton 80, Davies 90.
Referee: Andy Hall (West Midlands).
Attendance: 7,996 (504 away).