Clark 31, Wright-Phillips 45, Fletcher 90
Bristol City 2
Maynard 58, 78
THE fightback has started.
Chris Clark and Bradley Wright-Phillips, in different ways invisible Green men, scored goals of rare individual quality, to give the Pilgrims hope in their battle against relegation.
But it took the right foot of captain Carl Fletcher to secure a victory that could be so priceless to Argyle.
After BWP and Clark had put the Pilgrims 2-0 up after 45 minutes, City striker Nicky Maynard struck twice to register his first goals since Boxing Day to throw a spanner in Argyle's escape attempts.
Midfielder Clark had not scored for the Pilgrims since six minutes into his debut against Portsmouth in the 2007-08 FA Cup but you never would have guessed from the polished way he crashed a volley past City goalkeeper Dean Gerken just after the half-hour.
That effort was matched in the last minute of the first half, when Wright-Phillips burned a bicycle kick past Gerken as the City defence fiddled. Maynard threatened to thwart Green dreams until Fletcher struck in a wondeful climax to an extraordinary encounter.
For all the worries about the fitness of his defenders, Argyle head coach Paul Mariner had been able to select a strong-looking back-four for Argyle's penultimate home Tuesday night fixture of the season.
Kári Árnason had gone from being a virtual non-starter on Monday to taking his place alongside Réda Johnson at centre-back, the Benin international himself returning after a short absence because of a groin problem.
With Richard Eckersley, who had played at left-back in the previous Saturday's 1-1 draw at Coventry succumbing to injury, Johnson's return allowed Chris Barker to shuffle from the centre to the flank.
The 11 was otherwise unchanged from the Ricoh Arena line-up, which meant home starting debuts for forwards Yala Bolasie and Wright-Phillips.
Árnason's speedy recovery spared new signing Bondz N'Gala, who has joined the Pilgrims from West Ham United on an initial month's loan, a tough baptism against beanpole Austrian forward Stefan Maierhofer, who had joined Bristol City on loan from Wolves.
Maierhofer replaced another Wolves loan player, Chris Iwelumo, in a starting 11 that showed several other changes from the one that had begun Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Reading.
Defender Jamie McAllister and midfielders Marvin Elliott and Ivan Sproule were also recalled to the side, with Lewin Nyatanga, Lee Johnson and Paul Hartley dropping down to a bench that also included Christain Ribeiro.
A robust start to the game yielded little in the way of clear openings for either side until the Argyle defence allowed Maynard to turn just outside the 18-yard box and send in a drive that was a little too close of David Stockdale's left-hand post for comfort.
A few minutes later, more uncertain defending allowed Marvin Elliott to chance his arm from similar distance and with a similar result.
A worthy, but unlively, game was gingered up when Sproule earned a hearty round of laughter of for an undignified dive on the right-hand edge of the penalty area. Sprawl...sorry, Sproule also received a yellow card for his pains.
City had the ball in the Barn Park end net shortly afterwards, when Cole Skuse's shot was turned in by Maeirhofer after Stockdale had been unable to gather the first effort, but the debutant had strayed into an offside position and the Pilgrims were rightly rescued by linesman Andy Bennett's flag.
Reprieved, Argyle went up the Devonport and took the lead. The goal owed much to the persistence of Jamie Mackie, who had previously been running up blind alleys or running out of space, but who, this time, wriggled free from the attentions of three City players on the left-hand touchline.
He flicked the ball inside to where Chris Barker had stolen up. Had Barks not been a lefty, he might have had a dig, but his one-footedness persuaded him that a little chip to Clark, lurking at the back post, might be in order. The Scot did the rest, thumping the ball past goalkeeper Dean Gerken before it had come to earth.
With the wind in their sails, Argyle looked a different prospect and Mackie came close to doubling their lead before the interval with a speculative shot from 30 yards that Gerken was happy to parry.
They did go in two ahead, thanks to a delicious piece of individual skill from Wright-Phillips, after some questionable City defending.
Árnason's long throw on the Argyle right was allowed to go all the way to the centre of the penalty area, where BWP read the bounce - and the situation - perfectly and sent a beautiful overhead kick past a flatfooted and bemused Gerken.
City replaced Sproule with Danny Haynes at the interval but the change produced no immediate upturn in their fortunes.
However, they were right back in the game just before the hour, with Argyle having a hand in their own downfall.
Clark gave City their chance when he conceded a soft free-kick in the D of the penalty area, and a training-ground mismove ended with Maynard slamming the ball through the defensive wall and past an unsighted Stockdale.
The Argyle goalkeeper was not so hampered a few minutes later when another City free-kick saw McAllister attempt a spectacular long-range effort that required Stockdale to dive full length to turn the ball away.
The Pilgrims took a while to respond but came strong again when Bolasie found himself the man over in space, but his fierce goalbound shot was bravely blocked by City skipper Louis Carey.
Wright-Phillips' race was run by the 70th minute, when Joe Mason was introduced from the bench and the teenager linked well to set up Mackie for a shot across the Bristol goal that was always destined to travel wide of the far post.
Maynard showed Mackie how it should be done when he broke off a Réda Johnson header, under pressure from Maierhofer, to keep his cool, drive in at goal and fire home with aplomb.
A frantic finish saw Jamal Campbell-Ryce dismissed for two yellow cards, but Fletcher found the real explosive finish that the Pilgrims so wanted.
Argyle (4-4-2): 21 David Stockdale; 2 Karl Duguid, 11 Kári Árnason, 22 Réda Johnson, 15 Chris Barker; 6 Chris Clark (25 Alan Judge 89), 7 Damien Johnson, 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 36 Yala Bolasie; 8 Jamie Mackie, 10 Bradley Wright-Phillips (32 Joe Mason 70). Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu (gk), 14 Rory Fallon, 20 Luke Summerfield, 29 Bondz N'Gala, 33 Kenny Cooper.
Bookings: R Johnson 59.
Bristol City (4-3-3): 22 Dean Gerken; 2 Bradley Orr, 6 Louis Carey (capt), 4 Liam Fontaine, 3 Jamie McAllister (32 Lewin Nyatanga 79); 17 Ivan Sproule (31 Danny Haynes half-time), 7 Marvin Elliott, 14 Cole Skuse, 20 Jamal Campbell-Ryce; 37 Stefan Maierhofer (9 David Clarkson 79), 10 Nicky Maynard. Substitutes (not used): 8 Lee Johnson, 11 Paul Hartley, 19 Christian Ribiero, 30 Stephen Henderson (gk).
Sent off: Campbell-Ryce 88 (two yellows).
Bookings: Sproule 17, Campbell-Ryce 83, Carey 90.
Referee: Trevor Kettle (Berkshire).
Attendance: 9,289 (779 away).