ARGYLE remain in the FA Cup after a bruising 0-0 draw with Newcastle United at a bitterly cold Home Park.
Both sides battled to warm the biggest crowd of the season at the Theatre of Greens but it was an afternoon for defenders.
The Pilgrims engineered a number of promising situations without creating clear opportunities but Newcastle ended the game looking strong, only for Argyle's defence, headed by a fantastic display from Chris Barker, to resist the late onslaught.
Head Coach Paul Mariner made just one enforced change to the Argyle side that thumped Reading 4-1 on Monday, with Barker making his first appearance of the season after a lengthy calf injury in place of Benin international Réda Johnson, who was away on African Cup of Nations duty.
Barker's vacated spot on the bench went to David McNamee and youngster Lloyd Saxton was named as the reserve goalkeeper after Mariner's decision not to renew Kyle Letheren's short-term contract.
In contrast, Newcastle boss Chris Hughton made seven changes to the side held to a frustrating 0-0 draw by Derby County at St James' Park on Monday.
Dutchman Tim Krul was handed goalkeeping duties ahead of Steve Harper with Tamás Kádár drafted into a defence that was missing England under-21 international Steven Taylor and Spaniard José Enrique. Ryan Taylor dropped back from midfield to start at right-back.
Hughton opted to add bulk to his midfield, with former England international Nicky Butt chosen to start alongside Alan Smith, another to have worn the three lions on his shirt. Danny Guthrie and French winger Fabrice Pancrate were also included. Jonás Guttiérrez and Peter Lovenkrands were the rested duo, with Kevin Nolan given a weekend off.
The final changes were made in attack, where Shola Ameobi was paired with Nile Ranger, allowing Andy Carroll to warm a bench that also included former Argyle youngster Ben Tozer. The absence of Steven Taylor, Nolan and Carroll meant that the Greens had temporarily avoided all three of Newcastle's scorers in the 3-1 September defeat at St James' Park.
A combination of frosty overnight conditions and the remnants of the Reading match made for difficult surface conditions at a buzzing Home Park, with the terrific Toon Army filling the entire Barn Park end of the ground.
Argyle adjusted quickly to the bobbly pitch and Carl Fletcher's pickpocket of Butt gave Jamie Mackie a chance to run at the Newcastle defence. Colocccini was left with twisted blood, forcing Kádár to scurry across and make an excellent challenge to prevent Mackie from loosing of a shot.
The Greens reached a stage further moments later when a half-clearance fell to Luke Summerfield who instantly fired a volley back towards Krul's goal, but Smith thrust a barrel chest in the way of the effort.
The positive start soon gave away to a period of passing dominance from Newcastle and the visitors should have taken the lead when an incisive run and cross from Taylor presented Pancrate with a wonderful chance at the near-post, but the Frenchman woefully misjudged the bounce and the ball bounced embarrassingly clear off his knee.
It was not long, however, before Argyle's high-tempo approach had Toon feathers ruffling. A succession of direct balls into the penalty area were cleared with increasing difficulty by the visiting defence, as the Pilgrims sensed an opportunity capitalise on a strong start.
Despite the awkward conditions, however, Newcastle persevered admirably with their slick brand of passing football and one move involving Kádár, Smith and Guthrie allowed Ameobi the space to curl an ambitious effort from distance narrowly over Romain Larrieu's crossbar.
Acting on previous experience, Argyle were now swarming the edge of Newcastle's penalty area from every set-piece. It was a strategy the allowed Alan Judge to loop a volley inches over after the visitors failed to fully clear a long throw from Kári Árnason.
Argyle remained the stronger team territorially but Newcastle warnings were further clarified by a swift break from Ameobi. The big forward showed pace and power to muscle past Árnason and deliver a perfect pass for Pancrate. Thankfully, the Frenchman's first touch was even worse than it had been in the opening minutes, and Argyle escaped.
Ameobi's influence on the game was gradually becoming a key factor and he brushed aside the challenge of Gary Sawyer to dink over a cross for Guthrie, who was only a shoe-size away from hooking the ball inside the far post.
Tensions in the engine room, meanwhile, were rising, with Smith, in particular, upsetting the Greens with his robust approach. The contest between him and Fletcher was slowly developing into a terrific battle between two midfield enforcers.
Further up the pitch, Rory Fallon was easing himself into proceedings by winning a number of headers for Mackie's pace to utilise but the kind bounce kept evading Argyle's enthusiastic front-man.
The half drew to a close with Guthrie picking up a loose clearance from the Pilgrims and attempting a clever curler that forced Larrieu into his first full-length save of the day. Coloccinni then completed an interesting, if not scintillating, first period by sending a low volley scuttling wide.
A calming half-time cup of tea failed to have the desired effect, as Karl Duguid and Nile Ranger indulged in an unseemly bout of mud wrestling that earned the pair deserved yellow cards from referee Alan Wiley.
Newcastle's tempo was markedly improved at the start of the second-half and Argyle's determined response of applying constant pressure on the ball made for a fascinating duel. First to break the mould was Chris Clark, who skipped past Taylor before ending his enterprising run with a horribly over-hit cross.
Chances remained at a premium but the intensity of the game was reflected by the improved noise from more than 16,000 fans enjoying the FA Cup experience at Home Park. It seemed a good time for Pancrate's next comedy moment. This time, the hapless winger sent a cross / shot / ?? high into the stands with no Green shirt in sight.
As the second period reached its halfway point, Argyle were being increasingly pegged back and Hughton decided to turn the screw by bringing on Carroll for Ranger. Moments later Smith limped off to be replaced by Gutiérrez.
Mariner then opted to freshen up his side by withdrawing the impressive Summerfield for McNamee. A further injury and lengthy treatment for Kádár caused more disruption, as the rhythm of the game seemed to steadily dissipate.
Hughton finally ended Pancrate's miserable afternoon by replacing him with Danish flyer Lovenkrands for the final ten minutes of a contest neither side wanted to go to a replay.
Needless fouls from Fallon and Sawyer presented the visitors with two inviting set-piece situations, the first of which wasted by Taylor's poor delivery and the second ending with Carroll nodding a weak header into Larrieu's grateful hands.
Newcastle were now completely on top, as Green legs began to feel the pain of a heavy Christmas schedule, and Larrieu needed to produce a superb save to tip Butt's improvised looping volley over the bar.
It was the last and best chance either side could muster on an afternoon that promised more than it delivered, and Argyle will now need to beat Newcastle on their own patch to advance.
Argyle (4-4-2): 1 Romain Larrieu; 2 Karl Duguid, 11 Kari Arnason, 15 Chris Barker, 18 Gary Sawyer; 25 Alan Judge (17 Craig Noone 90), 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 20 Luke Summerfield (16 David McNamee 74), 6 Chris Clark, 8 Jamie Mackie, 14 Rory Fallon. Substitutes (not used): 24 Ashley Barnes, 26 Alan Gow, 27 Lloyd Saxton (gk), 31 Yoann Folly, 32 Joe Mason.
Booked: Árnason 45, Duguid 52, Fallon 82
Newcastle (4-4-2): 26 Tim Krul; 16 Ryan Taylor, 2 Fabricio Coloccini, 28 Tamas Kadar, 12 Danny Simpson; 21 Fabrice Pancrate (11 Peter Lovenkrands 79), 17 Alan Smith (18 Jonas Guttierrez 72), 22 Nicky Butt (capt), 8 Danny Guthrie; 23 Shola Ameobi, 30 Nile Ranger (24 Andy Carroll 69). Substitutes (not used): 1 Steve Harper (gk), 3 Jose Enrique, 35 Ben Tozer, 42 Ryan Donaldson.
Booked: Ranger 52, Taylor 87
Referee: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).
Attendance: 16,451 (2,376 away).