Long 51, Long (pen) 90
A DUBIOUS penalty award well into injury-time from 28-year-old referee Oliver Langford condemned Argyle to a cruel defeat at the hands of relegation rivals Reading.
Outplayed in the first-half, the Pilgrims had to dig deep to go into the break on level terms with their goal still intact.
However, a much-improved second-half showing saw them recover from conceding Shane Long's breakaway goal to level through captain Carl Fletcher.
A point would have represented a fair return for their later efforts and seemed to be coming when Langford saw evil intent in a coming-together between Chris Clark and Reading substitute Hal Robson-Kanu, allowing Long to complete a notable double and send the Pilgrims home empty-handed.
Both sides had made enforced changes to their starting eleven following their weekend exertions; both in defence; each for a different reason.
Argyle were without Karl Duguid, who has taken on many difficult opponents this season and triumphed, but came second-best to a divot hole in the 1-0 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion three days earlier.
The Doog's untimely mis-step resulted in a sprained ankle which will rule him out of participation for several games and which allowed Scottish international David McNamee to regain the right-back position at the Madejski.
Reading centre-back Matt Mills was unavailable for the recently resurgent Royals, having been red-carded in their 2-1 win at Doncaster on Saturday evening, which meant a recall for Zurab Khizanishvili, a player outscored on the Scrabble board only by team-mate Grzegorz Rasiak.
Reading manager Brian McDermott, an apprentice of Paul Mariner's at Arsenal three decades ago, also brought in striker Simon Church for midfielder Jimmy Kebe to go more offensive than his side had been at the Keepmoat.
The home side started the game smartly and gave the Pilgrims an early pummelling in which the ball pinged in and around the Argyle penalty area for minutes at a time. Staunch hearts and stout legs were needed to repel borders.
McNamee was in the thick of things, making one sturdy block on Long at goalkeeper David Stockdale's right-hand post, and then surviving a half-hearted appeal for a penalty when the ball struck him high on the arm during another protracted spell of pinball.
For more than 30 minutes, Argyle collectively failed to make any significant headway, the result of too many individuals being not really at it. Too much possession was freely squandered; too many wrong decisions were made; too little cohesion was shown.
Reading, of course, were only too happy to accept the invitation to attempt to cash in and their Icelandic centre-back captain Ivar Ingimarsson went close, and then very close, with successive headers.
With the Pilgrims having played so well and lost by the odd goal in their two previous games, one began to wonder whether the below-par showing was part of a cunning plan from the head coach - playing badly and winning being the obverse of playing well and losing.
Through it all, the 1,200-strong Green Army was in excellent voice, displaying more fortitude and unswerving loyalty than anyone had a right to expect on such a cold evening - it snowed fitfully throughout - while witnessing such unappetising fare.
Apparently through sheer bloody-mindedness alone, Argyle managed to keep their goal intact. It was not pretty, but it was, in many ways, admirable. Church's profligacy when given time and space to cut inside the Pilgrims' bewildered defence before blasting over Stockdale's crossbar, helped their cause.
With seven minutes to go before the break, the Pilgrims forced their first meaningful shot on goal, when Jamie Mackie slapped a 20-yard drive wide, and they followed that with a set-piece beauty, Kári Árnason heading Alan Judge's corner powerfully, but narrowly over. Reading's previously impenetrable veil of confidence noticeably slipped a little.
Clearly Paul Mariner felt something more than a half-time tongue-lashing was in order, for he sent his side out for the second 45 minutes with Kenny Cooper and Craig Noone having replaced Rory Fallon and Alan Judge.
Suddenly, Argyle were back in the thick of things. Mackie had one penetrating run that ended in a blind alley before Cooper set him up sweetly, off Réda's Johnson's pass, for a raking shot that Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici kept out at arm's length.
Cooper, following up, forced a corner of Khizanishvili's block from which Árnason, stealing in at the far post, headed powerfully goalwards only for the Royals' Aussie custodian to grasp it on the goal-line.
Just when you were seriously believing the Pilgrims could press home their advantage, Reading broke against the run of second-half play to take the lead, Long, the man whose goals at Norwich last season had effectively kept the Pilgrims in the Championship, slotting home after a solo break.
The pendulum of confidence naturally swung back to the home side, who may well have considered breaking out the cigars if they had realised that the Pilgrims were on a 23-game losing streak away from home in matches when they had conceded the first goal of the game.
A poor finish from Long, threaded through by Brian Howard, prevented the home side from doubling their lead, and the let-off proved costly.
Noone begged Árnason for the ball and, when the favour was granted, whipped in a cross that fell to Chris Clark at the far post. Rather than shoot, the Scot teased the ball back for Cooper, whose blocked attempt on goal fell nicely for Fletch to ram the ball home.
The three points were, to bastardise Brain Moore, up for grabs now.
Argyle lost McNamee to the Curse of the Right-back, which saw Joe Mason brought into action, Clark dropping back, although the youngster still had his share of defending to do, especially with the slick Kebe coming off the Reading bench.
Ingimarsson, the fall guy when the two teams met at Home Park in December, brought the best out of Stockdale with another header as Reading pressed for victory.
A double save from Stockdale, blocking Howard's poorly defended low free-kick from the edge of the and throwing himself at the feet of Long to smother the rebound, kept matters level.
Argyle, you felt, needed one clear chance to get away with a smash-and grab win.
They did not find it and, instead, Reading found a favourable penalty decision from referee Oliver Langford.
Reading (4-4-2): 1 Adam Federici; 40 Andy Griffin, 16 Ivar Ingimarsson (capt), 44 Zurab Khizanishvili, 24 Ryan Bertrand; 11 Jobi McAnuff, 6 Brynjar Gunnarsson, 34 Brian Howard, 20 Jem Karacan (14 Jimmy Kebe 60); 18 Simon Church (19 Hal Robson-Kanu 72), 9 Shane Long. Substitutes (not used): 4 Kalifa Cisse, 21 Ben Hamer (gk), 23 Grzegorz Rasiak, 26 Alex Pearce, 36 Gunnar Thorvaldsson.
Argyle (4-4-2): 21 David Stockdale; 16 David McNamee (32 Joe Mason 67), 11 Kári Árnason, 22 Réda Johnson, 18 Gary Sawyer; 25 Alan Judge (17 Craig Noone half-time), 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 7 Damien Johnson, 6 Chris Clark; 8 Jamie Mackie, 14 Rory Fallon (33 Kenny Cooper half-time). Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu, 10 Bradley Wright-Phillips, 15 Chris Barker, 20 Luke Summerfield.
Booked: Noone 74, Árnason 84, Clark 90, Fletcher 90.
Referee: Oliver Langford (West Midlands).
Attendance: 15,484 (1,231 away).