The Pilgrims felt they should have picked up the three points at Coach Road, but Wales international goalkeeper Laura O’Sullivan had an outstanding game for her side and denied the Devon club time after time.
Argyle made four changes to the squad that won 2-0 at C&K Basildon last week with Panagiota Papaioannou, Amber Pollock and Steph Beck all returning, but the hosts were without striker Helen Bleazard, who has an ankle injury.
Leah Burridge, Kate Middleton, Ebony Dover and Mollie Taylor occupied the back four in front of goalkeeper Sarah Prior. Bleazard’s absence meant Zoe Cunningham leading then line with Becky Dandridge, Jessica Jones and Faye Ivall in the midfield and Kayley Lane and Amber Pollock on the flanks.
The Pilgrims played the first half against a howling gale and it was no surprise Cardiff used the long ball. However, this did not seem to bother Argyle with captain Kate Middleton marshalling the defence well.
But as Argyle were just starting to get comfortable they were stunned when in the 19th minute a clearance fell to Cardiff’s Kelly Issac, who fired a bullet into the net off the under-side of the crossbar from 25 yards.
The Greens then had a narrow escape when following a corner the ball bounced agonisingly wide.
Despite the heavy pitch, Argyle started to control the game with Jones firing straight at the goalkeeper. Cunningham then played in Ivall but her effort was saved low by O’Sullivan.
It was no surprise that Argyle did get a goal when in the 36th minute sheer persistence by Cunningham saw her race into the penalty area before scoring with a clinical finish.
The Devon club continued to create chances with Pollock having her effort saved and in the ensuing scramble Jones and Cunningham saw their follow up efforts blocked by O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan came to her side’s rescue again when she denied Pollock in a one-on-one situation.
Chances continued to come Argyle’s way. From a Dandridge free-kick Pollock had another effort saved, with Cunningham’s follow up effort being cleared off the goal line.
Cardiff improved in the second half but it was Argyle who had the first chance after the interval when a Cunningham over-head kick was saved. Cunningham then passed up a great opportunity to score when she picked up a poor goalkeeper clearance only to shoot straight at O’Sullivan.
Argyle’s pressure finally paid off when in the 61st minute after good pressure by Cunningham the ball fell to Jones, who took one look and fired the ball into the net from 30 yards.
Although wary of fast Cardiff breaks, Argyle were now searching for an all-important third goal. Jones worked an opening to cross which just eluded Dandridge.
In the final 10 minutes Cardiff became more prominent and a mistake at the back resulted in a short corner and, with Middleton drawn out of defence, the ball was floated into the far post where the unmarked Cori Williams headed in an 81st minute equaliser.
Prior was then called into action to cut out a cross. Argyle returned to the attack with Cunningham setting up Jones, whose effort was tipped over the crossbar.
With Argyle in all-out attack they were always susceptible to a fast break and after a forward move broke down Cardiff raced up the field with a minute remaining and Kylie Nolan volleyed in what proved to be the winner.
Argyle battled away and Jones worked herself an opening to fire in a great shot only for O’Sullivan to do what she does well for Wales and pull off a superb save. Indeed if it were not for O’Sullivan, Argyle could have been celebrating all three points.
Joint manager Trevor Rodd said afterwards: “The girls are devastated and frustrated. It was the manner of losing to two late goals.
“We told the girls at half-time that we are at our most vulnerable when attacking the final third as they were overloading on the right.
“What was disappointing is that we created enough chances to win two or three games, but that’s football.”
Argyle: Sarah Prior, Leah Burridge, Kate Middleton, Ebony Dover, Mollie Taylor, Becky Dandridge, Faye Ivall (Steph Beck), Kayley Lane, Jessica Jones, Zoe Cunningham, Amber Pollock (Tamsin Medd-Gill). Unused substitute Panagiota Papaioannou.
Meanwhile, Argyle’s development team need just a point from their final match at St Agnes to clinch the South West League Western Division title after beating Feniton 3-2 away on Sunday.
The young Pilgrims travelled to Feniton knowing nothing less than a win would keep their league hopes alive.
Argyle, who opted to play with the strong wind at their backs first half, went in front after four minutes. A through ball from Rachel Javan caught the Feniton defence on their heels as young Nicola Champion sped through and fed the ball past the onrushing keeper, with it slowing down before it crossed the line allowing Gabi Alphous to add the final touch.
It was the start the Greens needed but they could not capitalise on this early advantage.
Despite dominating possession they just could not break down the home team’s defence.
Feniton seemed to grow in confidence and deservedly equalised on the half hour. A clever ball played in behind the Argyle defence saw Brittany Harris score with an angled drive.
Play moved from end-to-end but neither side could create another worthwhile chance.
The half-time team talk seemed to have an effect on Argyle as they started the second period with a higher tempo.
And just three minutes after the restart, a clearance out of defence from Alex Hugh was latched onto by Kiara Robins, who ran through the centre of the Feniton defence a shot over the keeper’s head into the roof of the net.
Argyle were really impressing with their short passing game on a difficult surface and in windy conditions. Champion and Alphous were proving a constant menace with their link up play and constant movement.
With the half 15 minutes old, Kelly Vinnicombe made a challenge and won the ball on the left-hand side and slipped it inside to Dani Salt. Champion was already on the move and Salt found her with a pinpoint pass. Champion moved the ball quickly to her strike partner Alphous, who cleverly placed it into the bottom corner of the net from outside the penalty area.
Feniton did have their moments. A point-blank save from Vicki Fannon and some resolute defending from Salter, Javan, Parkyn and in particular young Hannah Brock, who was having an outstanding game, kept them at bay until the 82nd minute when Harris added her second.
It made for a tense end to the game, but the young Pilgrims kept their nerve and saw the game out.
Manager Rob Bonney had nothing but praise for the team’s performance.
He said: “To go into a game like this with no ‘keeper and having to use players who have not played competitively from seven weeks to 12 months tells you the type of characters we had in that changing room.
“Coaches Si Parnell, Vicki Fannon and myself all agreed that in the first half, despite having a lot of possession, we were very slow and lethargic not only on the ball but also off it.
“Second half, though, we started to win personal battles and played a lot higher up the pitch. We also shortened our passing game and moved the ball around a lot quicker.”
Bonney was keen to thank Vicki Fannon for offering to play in goal and to goalkeeping coach Dan Tecza, who had to prepare his sixth different ‘keeper for a game this season.
Argyle’s development team: Vicki Fannon, Sally Salter, Becky Parkyn, Rachel Javan, Hannah Brock, Alex Hugh, Kiara Robins, Kelly Vinnicombe, Dani Salt, Gabi Alphous, Nicola Champion, Abbie Scurr, Jodie Randall, Maya Ridge.