Sheffield United 4
Camara 8, Ward 35, Ward 48, Creswell 80
Bolasie 49, Mason 56, Mackie 85
THE Pilgrims' precarious Championship position remains parlous after their three-match unbeaten run came to an end just down the road from their last victory.
There was, though, honour in defeat, however hollow that sounds, and however little it contributes to their fight against relegation.
From looking dead, buried and decomposing at 3-0 down minutes into the second half, they battled back with goals from half-time substitutes Yala Bolasie and Joe Mason to give hope, not just in South Yorkshire, but for what is left of the rest of the season.
Ultimately, Argyle could not repeat their thrilling come-from-behind victory at Oakwell after Henri Camara and Jamie Ward, twice, had scored before the Pilgrims got their act together.
A defensive faux pas extraordinaire by goalkeeper David Stockdale ultimately put the kybosh on their comeback by failing to spot Richard Cresswell lurking behind him as he rolled the out the ball, which he promptly lost and allowed the Sheffield striker to slot home unimpeded.
Still the Pilgrims fought to the end, and Jamie Mackie slammed home an impressive late goal to keep things right in the balance until the final whistle.
Argyle head coach Paul Mariner had been able, and chosen, to send out a starting 11 unchanged from that which had paved the way to a 1-1 draw against Leicester at Home Park seven days previously.
Concerns about Réda Johnson's groin injury proved unfounded, allowing the Benin international to continue his burgeoning partnership with Kári Árnason, himself recalled to the Icelandic national team this week.
With two more internationalists - Fletcher and Damien Johnson - starting in central midfield, and World Cup-bound Rory Fallon partnering Mackie in attack, the spine of the Pilgrims' line-up again had a solid look about it.
Sheffield United's former Pilgrim manager Kevin Blackwell was obliged to make two changes to the Blades' opening personnel from their 1-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest a week earlier.
Defender Derek Geary has had to call time on his season because of injury, while striker Darius Henderson was banned for the first of three games.
Captain Chris Morgan returned at centre-back, and Cresswell was promoted from a substitutes' bench that included James Harper, scorer of the late winner in United's 1-0 victory at Home Park earlier in the season.
The Greens took to the field in all white, which looked a little strange but probably made Fallon feel at home, and were soon a goal behind.
Not for the first time this season, the strike followed a direct assault on the centre of the Pilgrims' back four, with Camara clicking into gear and outpacing Árnason before shooting across goalkeeper David Stockdale with such accuracy that the ball rolled in off the post.
Camara's exposure of the Argyle defence was nearly doubled soon afterwards when a deflected shot found the Cameroon international free at the far post. His rising shot was helped over the bar by Chris Barker's late stretched intervention.
Argyle's first attack of note saw Chris Clark and Karl Duguid combine on the right in a quick break for the latter to put a cross on to Fallon's head and a knockdown from which Mackie was crowded out before he could get a decent sight of the target.
There followed a prolonged period of not-very-muchness, in which Argyle worked hard, stuck to their task, individually and collectively, and showed an admirable attitude.
There was, however, a fragility that was hard to define, but which came to the fore ten minutes before the interval when Ward took advantage of some imperfect defending to thump home an unstoppable shot from ten yards.
A long-range shot from captain Fletcher - a shoo-in for the Pilgrims' player of the season, if you ask me - that went wide was Argyle's sole riposte before the interval as United, with their cushion, mushroomed in confidence.
Certainly, rookie referee Chris Sarginson felt the game was up. What reason could he have for booking Stockdale before half the game had been completed - for time-wasting? Only, surely, if you think the Argyle goalkeeper was trying to prevent a heavier defeat? Honestly.
Mariner has never accepted defeat so lightly in his life and is not about to do so in his 50s, so it was no surprise to see Mason and Bolasie introduced at half-time, with Fallon and Noone making way.
Before they had even had time to break into a sweat, the Blades had cut Argyle's defence apart again, allowing Ward to net his second from close range.
The defensive lapse was mirrored immediately by the home side, who went AWOL to allow Bolasie to poke home unmarked from close range for his first Championship goal.
Bizarrely, the goal rattled United, and Mason and Árnason both went close to reducing the arrears further well before the hour mark, the chances coming after Réda Johnson had limped out of action.
With Gary Sawyer also hors de combat and no defender among the replacements, Fletcher dropped to centre-back and Luke Summerfield came into the midfield.
Despite the setback, Argyle fired back to within a goal of their hosts when Mason headed home at the far post to finish a move in which Summerfield had played a significant part.
Suddenly, the momentum was with the Pilgrims and the fragility was wearing red and white stripes.
Any hopes of a magnificent fightback went south with Stockdale's sleepiness, but were resurrected immediately when Mackie zipped in his seventh goal of the campaign.
Three goals away from home and nothing to show for it - you could not have odds it.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): 23 Mark Bunn; 6 Nyron Nosworthy, 5 Chris Morgan (capt), 21 Kyle Bartley, 32 Toni Kallio; 18 Jamie Ward, 4 Nick Montgomery, 12 Lee Williamson, 11 Mark Yeates (15 James Harper 83); 17 Richard Cresswell (19 Jordan Stewart 90), 37 Henri Camara (9 Ched Evans 76). Substitutes (not used): 13 Ian Bennett (gk), 16 Andy Taylor, 28 Stephen Quinn, 33 Jonathan Fortune.
Booked: Cresswell 36, Morgan 72.
Argyle (4-4-2): 21 David Stockdale; 2 Karl Duguid, 11 Kári Árnason, 22 Réda Johnson(20 Luke Summerfield 50), 15 Chris Barker; 17 Craig Noone (36 Yala Bolasiehalf-time), 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 7 Damien Johnson, 6 Chris Clark; 14 Rory Fallon (32 Joe Mason half-time), 8 Jamie Mackie. Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu (gk), 10 Bradley Wright-Phillips, 25 Alan Judge, 33 Kenny Cooper.
Booked: Stockdale 45, Mackie 72.
Referee: Chris Sarginson (Staffordshire).
Attendance: 24,886 (1,200 away est.).