ANDRES GURRIERI was sent-off as Argyle crashed to a heavy defeat against promotion-chasing Rochdale on Saturday.
It was always an uphill task for the Pilgrims after midfielder Jamie Allen fired the home side into a fourth minute lead.
Argyle were second best to Rochdale in the first half but only trailed 1-0 at the break.
The visitors made a better start to the second period, only for Gurrieri to be sent-off in the 53rd minute for a challenge on defender Jack O’Connell.
Rochdale then went on to wrap up the win with superb goals from Ian Henderson and Michael Rose.
It was a chastening experience for the Pilgrims after their recent improved results in League Two.
Argyle’s starting line-up showed three changes from the 3-2 defeat by Port Vale in the FA Cup third round replay at Home Park last Tuesday.
There were recalls for Luke McCormick, Maxime Blanchard and Jason Banton, with new signing Matt Parsons among the substitutes.
Blanchard played at right-back because Durrell Berry was ruled out by a groin injury.
Banton returned to the team at the expense of Isaac Vassell after being cup-tied for the clash against Port Vale.
Ben Purrington, 17, retained his place at left-back despite the capture of Parsons from Crystal Palace on Friday.
Rochdale manager Keith Hill sprang a surprise by leaving out 12-goal top scorer Scott Hogan.
He was named among the substitutes, possibly because Rochdale have a busy schedule of matches coming up.
That includes a FA Cup fourth round tie at home to Championship club Sheffield Wednesday next Saturday.
Despite the absence of the highly-rated Hogan, the home team soon opened the scoring.
Allen latched onto a defence-splitting pass from Donnelly in only the fourth minute and confidently slotted past McCormick and into the net.
Banton initially played up front with Reuben Reid in a 4-4-2 formation, with Lewis Alessandra wide on the left.
Argyle had their first shot on target in the 18th minute when a volley from Gurrieri was saved low to his left by Josh Lillis.
The chance came after a long throw-in from Curtis Nelson was flicked on by, first, Banton and then Reid.
Henderson sent a 20-yard shot over the bar before Peter Vincenti almost made it 2-0 in the 31st minute.
Vincenti got on the end of a corner from Rose and his firm goalbound header was blocked inside the six-yard area.
Rochdale were playing with a lot of confidence and their fluent passing was causing lots of problems for the Pilgrims.
Donnelly fired high and wide from a good position in the 35th minute after a cross from Rhys Bennett.
Banton had been moved to the left of midfield, with Alessandra playing behind Reid, in a tactical switch by manager John Sheridan.
However, Argyle could not come up with any chances as they went into the break trailing 1-0.
They did have a good opportunity to equalise at the start of the second half, though, when Lillis made an excellent save from Alessandra.
The ball was threaded through to Alessandra inside the penalty by Gurrieri 47th minute.
Alessandra got away a shot from a tight angle and it was destined for the top corner of the net until it was pushed away by Lillis with tremendous agility.
Argyle’s chance of staging a comeback suffered a major setback in the 53rd minute when Gurrieri was dismissed.
He clashed with O’Connell, who ended up in a heap on the ground after a challenge from the Argentine.
Players from both sides rushed to the scene before Gurrieri was sent-off by referee Mark Brown.
Soon afterwards, Banton was replaced by Luke Young, with Argyle continuing to play Alessandra and Reid in attack despite the dismissal of Gurrieri.
Argyle again went close to an equaliser when captain Conor Hourihane aimed a free-kick to the far post.
Former Rochdale defender Neal Trotman met the ball and his header went across the face of a packed goalmouth.
Donnelly made way for Hogan in the 66th minute, with the former Argyle striker receiving a good ovation from the home fans.
Rochdale doubled their lead with a superb finish from Henderson in the 75th minute.
Henderson got in behind the Pilgrims’ defence and crashed a ferocious shot into the net off the inside of the far post.
Rommy Boco and Nathan Thomas were sent on as Argyle substitutes for Alessandra and Reid respectively as 10-man Argyle added fresh legs to their attack.
Hourihane did have a good chance in the 80th minute after a flick on from Trotman but he dragged his shot wide of the far post.
Rochdale then went 3-0 up in the 89th minute with another fantastic goal, this time from Rose.
The midfielder beat McCormick with an audacious long-range lob which flew into the top of the net after Blanchard had lost possession.
ROCHDALE: Josh Lillis; Rhys Bennett, Oliver Lancashire, Jack O’Connell, Matt Done; Peter Cavanagh (Gary Dicker 64 mins); Peter Vincenti, Ian Henderson, Jamie Allen, Michael Rose; George Donnelly (Scott Hogan 66 mins).
Substitutes (not used): Joe Rafferty, Ashley Eastham, Robbie Thomson (gk), Graham Cummins, Joe Bunney.
ARGYLE: Luke McCormick; Maxime Blanchard, Neal Trotman, Curtis Nelson, Ben Purrington; Andres Gurrieri, Dominic Blizzard, Conor Hourihane, Lewis Alessandra (Rommy Boco 76 mins); Jason Banton (Luke Young 57 mins); Reuben Reid (Nathan Thomas 78 mins).
Substitutes (not used): Jake Cole, Paul Wotton, Tyler Harvey, Matt Parsons.
REFEREE: Mark Brown (East Yorkshire)
GOALS – Rochdale: Allen 4 mins, Henderson 75 mins, Rose 89 mins