City scored more than two goals for the first time since Boxing Day 2008 to gun down Argyle and once again prove best in the West.
Johnson had to make changes after the static, lethargic performance against Peterborough on the weekend and duly did, dropping his boy and Marvin Elliott in the middle in favour of Paul Hartley and Danny Haynes.
There was surprisingly no place for Louis Carey though, who was benched in favour of Jamie McCombe in defence.
Despite the changes, City were slow to come out of the traps as the games first chance fell to the visitors on 5.
Plymouth winger Gary Sawyer cutting the ball back for centre-half Shane Lowry to shoot from the edge of the box only to be denied by Gerken’s legs.
Evander Sno, operating in his preferred central midfield for the first time since joining on loan from Ajax, then had an 18-yard shot deflected over before a last-ditch challenge stopped the Dutchman opening his account after a Larrieu flap from the resulting corner.
Former City trialist and local lad Ashley Barnes rolled his marker before curling his 20-yard effort over as Argyle became the dominant force early on.
Barnes fed Mackie who was denied by a superbly timed Nyatanga block just as he was poised to pull the trigger and that was enough for Johnson.
City were playing very poorly in the opening third of the game, lacking any cohesion in midfield and attack so it was no surprise when captain marvel Louis Carey entered the fold at the expense of the ineffective Alvaro Saborio on the half hour.
The switch saw a change from a 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2, as the City gaffer rightly tried to get more width into our play. Credit for having the balls to make the change early for once as opposed to letting it drift.
Bradley Orr fired his cross onto the head of Sno who forced a smart save from Larrieu before Paul Hartley unleashed a ferocious 30-yard rasper that only cleared the bar by a matter of inches.
The tactical change was working and Haynes, playing up front after starting the game on the wing, was unlucky to see his 43rd minute drive unwittingly deflected out for a corner by Larrieu after racing onto a Sno through-ball as the sides went in level at the break.
Attacking the East End, City smelt blood and continued in the same vein they ended the first half. Lewin Nyatanga headed narrowly over from an inswinging McAllister corner on 46.
Argyle were firmly on the back foot, dropping deeper and deeper as the half wore on. Maynard was denied by the strength of Timar, Haynes fired wide from 25-yards and Paul Hartley curled a sublime free-kick which grazed the post with Larrieu well beaten on 60 as the pressure mounted.
Gavin Williams and Ivan Sproule entered the fray on 66 in place of Sno and Nyatanga, as Johnson switched back to a 4-4-2. Williams moved to the left side with Sproule on the right to try and stretch the game further and 8 minutes later the goal arrived.
McAllister found oceans of space down the left to send over a deep cross into the six-yard box which evaded everyone bar Danny Haynes, who bundled home the opener at the back post.
With City fans still goaded our pastie-munching rivals, Jamie Mackie stunned the Gate in spectacular fashion 90 seconds later.
Unsurprisingly, Rory Fallon was involved, as he always seems to be against us, as he flicked the ball onto Mackie who fired in an unstoppable angled strike which nearly broke the crossbar on its way in for the shock equaliser.
Barely 2 minutes later though, City were back in front. McAllister and Hartley worked a short corner as Jamie McCombe rose tallest to meet another measured McAllister cross from the left-wing on 77.
And Ashton Gate exploded less than a minute later as Nicky Maynard controlled Hartley’s pass before rocketing a left-footed drive from 20-yards past the despairing Larrieu to knock the stuffing out of Argyle (78).
It was a crazy 6 minute period which saw City register three goals for the first time this season and just about cling onto the coat tails of the leaders with only 3 points separating us in 9th to West Brom on the top.
CITY (4-4-2): Gerken; Orr, McCombe, Nyatanga (Williams 66), McAllister; Sno (Sproule 66), Hartley, Skuse; Haynes, Saborio (Carey 30), Maynard.
ARGYLE (4-4-2): Larrieu; Gray, Timar, Lowry, Sawyer; Judge (Gow 79 mins), Duguid, Fletcher, Clark (Sheridan 88); Mackie, Barnes (Fallon 70).
REFEREE: Grant Hegley (Hertfortshire)
Dean Gerken 6
Had no chance with the goal but otherwise didn’t have much to do. Did what was asked of him well.
Bradley Orr 6
Honest shift up the right hand side, provided a few good crosses and defended resolutely.
Jamie McAllister 7
Probably his best game of the season. Provided two assists with two inch-perfect crosses from the left. Gave us width in the 3-5-2 system and defendsively sound.
Lewin Nyatanga 7
Made a few crucial blocks in the first half and was really unlucky not to open his account for us early in the second period. Robust at the back and took tactical switches in his stride.
Jamie McCombe 6
Should have been much stronger for the Argyle goal but made amends by scoring a towering header to give us the second goal.
Danny Haynes 7
Largely anonymous down the right wing early on but came to life when moved up front. Gambled for his goal and showed some neat touches. Good display from the ex-Ipswich youngster.
Evander Sno 6
Much better in the middle and more of a threat there too but was subbed midway through the second half. More to come from him I think.
Cole Skuse 7
Another accomplised performance from Skusey. Like Haynes, he wasn’t at home on the left flank early on but floursished when moved into the centre.
Paul Hartley 7
His influence was crucial to the cause. Was a threat going forward, tackled well and produced quality with set pieces when asked.
Nicky Maynard 7
Always a threat and deserved his eighth goal of the season. He’s in the good habit of scoring spectacular goals at the moment and tonight was no different.
Alvaro Saborio 5
Didn’t do anything of note in the half hour he was on the pitch. Still looked lethergic from his exertions with his country last week, which is understandable.
Louis Carey 7
Had a massive influence when coming on for his 551st appearance after 30 minutes. Marshalled the back line and kept Argyle blunt in attack.
Gavin Williams 7
Came on with a third of the game left and made an impact. Sped up our play a bit and opened up Plymouth on a few occasions. Good to see him given more time to make an impact.
Hugged the touchline well and occupied the left-back to good effect. Felt he could’ve maybe done more going forward if I was nit-picking.
GARY JOHNSON – 7/10
Finally took the team by the scruff of the neck. Got his starting XI wrong but showed balls to change it early on instead of letting it drift. Largely picked square pegs in square holes and gave his subs enough time to effect the game for once.
PAUL STURROCK – 5/10
Looks like he’s got a struggle on his hands with the squad he’s got but set his side out to attack from the off which deserves to be commended. I’m just glad he didn’t start Fallon given the record that git’s got against us!
Great Result But More Work Needs To Be Done
First things first, it was a great result, and much-needed at that, but lets get things into contrast.
We were playing a very poor Plymouth side who ran things until Johnson chose to change it on 30. Once we played players in their rightful positions and a formation that suited us, we began to play and dominate.
Johnson deserves credit for mixing it up early on and dropping his boy and the out of form Elliott. I hope that last night shows him what our best team is and the formation that gets the best out of them.