by RICK COWDERY
A WEEK that had begun amid much hope that the Pilgrims could extricate themselves from trouble at the wrong end of npower League 2 saw them right back in the mucky stuff.
After draws against fellow strugglers Dagenham & Redbridge and Macclesfield, they saw their impressive five-game unbeaten home record go down to a Gillingham side that was reduced to ten men after half an hour.
By that time, they already led thanks to a goal, eight minutes earlier, from the man who was subsequently red-carded, Joe Martin.
With several of the Pilgrims' main rivals for relegation from the Football League all winning, they again gave it all they had but were thwarted - not least of all by the crossbar and opposition goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga - in their attempts to get back into the game.
Argyle manager Carl Fletcher had reverted to the starting 11 which had taken to Home Park for the previous weekend's 0-0 draw with Dagenham & Redbridge, recalling winger Ashley Hemmings on his 21st birthday after replacing him with Luke Daley for Tuesday's 1-1 heartbreaker at Macclesfield.
Pilgrims centre-back Darren Purse had limped through the latter stages of that match, but he passed muster to resume in a defence that had conceded just Georgie Donnelly's late Moss Rose strike in nearly seven hours.
Gillingham, who had themselves left it late to beat Hereford United 5-4 on Tuesday, changed half of the outfield players that had begun that remarkable match.
Among them was young defender Jack Evans, who manager Andy Hessenthaler had been obliged to substitute against the Bulls after some of the home crowd had got on to the teenager.
Leading scorer and midweek match-winner Danny Kedwell was a surprising omission - a possible victim of a virus which has been doing the rounds in Kent recently - alongside Connor Essam, Jack Payne and the injured Curtis Weston.
Charlie Lee, who netted a second-half double on Tuesday, was given a start, as were his namesake Oliver, Garry Richards, Lewis Montrose and Martin.
Despite the semi-decimation of the side, loan signing Jordan Obita, who was signed late on Friday from Reading, started his Gills' career as a substitute at a ground where he has already made one appearance this season, for Barnet.
Gillingham, and Charlie Lee, looked like they still had plenty of goals in them, and Lee came close to scoring his third goal in an hour of playing time when he stooped very low to head on Jo Kuffour's corner.
Only Argyle goalkeeper Jake Cole's expert positioning and fine reflexes prevented the Pilgrims from falling behind.
Cole came to Argyle's rescue again when Gills' skipper Danny Jackman's through-ball bypassed the back four to reach Gavin Tomlin, whose decent shot was matched by the 'keeper, with Purse sweeping up in front of Kuffour.
The ease with which the opposition had cut through Argyle prompted Fletcher to switch his formation to 4-1-4-1, with Paul Wotton the defensive one, Nick Chadwick the attacking one, Luke Young partnering Conor Hourihane in central midfield, and Alex MacDonald on the right flank.
However, almost instantly, Gillingham took the lead. Martin's lofted strike from more than 35 yards over Cole's head, was a marvellous effort, but the go-ahead goal stemmed from Pilgrims' problems in clearing their own lines.
Almost instantly, the Pilgrims reverted to their more attacking starting line-up. They needed an immediate response and they all but produced one when Hemmings delivered a cross from the left that demanded, and got, a goalbound touch from Chadwick.
What neither Chadwick nor the Devonport end, who had started celebrations, had factored in was a mind-bogglingly great save from Gazzaniga, who not only got a hand to the ball, but managed to keep hold of it.
The temperature of the game increased when goalscorer Martin was sent off for a second bookable offence to complete quite a memorable half-hour.
On the plus side, at least he was back in the dry by the time the squalliest of squally showers swept in from the Milehouse direction, driving into Pilgrim faces and turning the surface into a mini quagmire.
The sun was back out by the time Gills central defender Simon King, who had a loan spell at Home Park earlier in the season, limped off, with referee Mark Brown generously holding up play while Gillingham readied their previously unready substitute Callum Davies.
One became two just before the break when Gavin Tomlin pulled up sharp, with what looked like a hamstring pull, and was helped off, bringing Obita into the fray.
Both sides reached the interval without further ado, although Argyle emerged with Durrell Berry having replaced Paul Bignot on the right hand side of the defence.
The Pilgrims went straight at Gillingham from the off and MacDonald's nippiness and persistence saw him make space for a cross that just missed Chadwick's head and Gazzaniga's far post.
The opening ten minutes of the half was played almost exclusively in the Gillingham defensive half but the quantity of Argyle's possession was trumped by the quality of the opposition's sporadic sorties, as demonstrated by Kuffour's curling shot that beat Cole and hit the inside of the post before rebounding to safety.
The Pilgrims responded with a raking shot across goal from Robbie Williams that cried out for a shot before Hemmings was replaced by Juvhel Tsoumou.
Tsoumou went up front alongside Chadwick, who was next to have a pot shot, lifting Berry's cross over Gazzaniga's crossbar.
Williams chimed in with a stinging free-kick that Gazziniga took chest high but spilled with his defenders clearing up just before Purse could pounce; Purse then fired a shot just wide after Gillingham failed to clear a corner.
The pressure continued, with Tsoumou's nuisance value seeing the ball drop at the feet of Young, who shot wide, before MacDonald's rising 30-yard drive crashed back off the angle of post and crossbar.
Both sides played their final substitute cards with 15 minutes to play, Argyle replacing captain Paul Wotton with former skipper Simon Walton.
Walton was booked and then spilled blood in the cause before being tackled at the last by Charlie Lee after Chadwick had played him into a decent scoring position.
Argyle ended with man of the match Purse playing up front and forcing the issue. MacDonald's drive across the face of goal needed a touch from him or Tsoumou, rather than the defensive boot that turned it wide.
It proved to be the last chance of another frustrating afternoon.
Argyle (4-4-2): 23 Jake Cole; 28 Paul Bignot (2 Durrell Berry half-time), 5 Darren Purse, 22 Maxime Blanchard, 3 Robbie Williams; 15 Luke Young, 19 Paul Wotton (capt, 8 Simon Walton 74), 20 Conor Hourihane, 31 Ashley Hemmings (9 Juvhel Tsoumou 62); 29 Nick Chadwick, 32 Alex MacDonald. Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu (gk), 7 Luke Daley.
Booked: Walton 76, Berry 83, Chadwick 84.
Gillingham (4-4-2): 28 Paulo Gazzaniga; 4 Charlie Lee, 6 Garry Richards, 5 Simon King (20 Callum Davies 41), 12 Joe Martin; 7 Chris Whelpdale, 19 Lewis Montrose, 37 Oliver Lee, 18 Danny Jackman; 33 Jo Kuffour (31 Ashley Miller 74), 39 Gavin Tomlin (14 Jordan Obita 45). Substitutes (not used): 17 Danny Spiller, 20 Callum Davies, 26 Darren Hawkes (gk).
Sent off: Martin 31.
Booked: Martin 13, Richards 49, Montrose 61.
Referee: Mark Brown.
Attendance: 6,382 (459 away).