YORK City manager Jackie McNamara admitted it took the half-time introduction of veteran Jonathan Greening to take the fear away from his strugglers.
Former Manchester United and Middlesbrough midfield player Greening, who is the youth development phase coach at Bootham Crescent, has re-registered as a player at the age of 36 despite hanging up his professional boots with Nottingham Forest 18 months ago.
With the Minstermen trailing to first-half goals from Jake Jervis and Graham Carey against the table-topping Pilgrims, McNamara gave Greening his second debut for York – the club he left for Old Trafford in 1998.
The former England Under-21 international, who had played alongside his brother for Tadcaster Albion before rejoining York, went on to roll back the years, prompting a much-improved second half from the hosts that resulted in 17-year-old midfield player Ben Godfrey claiming his first senior goal and a stoppage-time consolation.
Afterwards, McNamara admitted: “It took a 36-year-old to take responsibility on the ball because we played with fear in the first half. He brought calmness to our play and that bit of assurance we needed.”
During a difficult first half, York fell behind on 19 minutes when Jervis used his chest to convert Carey’s left-wing cross past Scott Flinders at his near post.
Carey went on to double the lead a minute before the interval when he swept home from 15 yards after Gregg Wylde had sped past Eddie Nolan on the left.
The Minstermen, who have now lost five games on the spin, showed spirit in the second half, under the guidance of Greening, with Godfrey blasting home from 10 yards after good play by substitute David Tutonda.
York City: Flinders; Nolan, Swan, Winfield (Lowe, 72), Ilesanmi; Collins (Tutonda, 55), Godfrey, Berrett; Coulson, Oliver, Turner (Greening, 46). Unused substitutes: Ingham, Straker, Hyde, Sinclair.
Plymouth Argyle: Bittner; Mellor, Nelson, Hartley, Sawyer; McHugh (Simpson, 79), Threlkeld, Carey; Tanner (Brunt, 81), Jervis, Wylde (Cox, 90). Unused substitutes: T Harvey, Purrington, Rooney, C Harvey.
Referee: R Clark (Northumberland).
Man of the match: Graham Carey.
Oxford remain in second place after Ryan Taylor struck the only goal in a 1-0 home win against Cambridge.
Stevenage midfielder Tom Pett headed his first goal of the season to rescue a point for his side in a 2-2 draw at next-to-bottom Yeovil.
Glovers midfielder Harry Cornick’s 55th-minute opener was cancelled out by Stevenage defender Dean Wells before Shaun Jeffers headed the home side back in front. All three goals came early in the second half before Pett struck in the 88th minute.