Albion knew life would be tough in the Coca-Cola Championship, but just how tough became even clearer after this convincing defeat at Withdean.

Mark McGhee's Seagulls, already trailing to a bizarre early goal, found themselves 2-0 down and a man down just before the break.

Young leftback Dan Harding, was sent off for two bookable offences in quick succession, the second of which gave away a penalty.

Albion's pointless start is nothing to the agony the promising Harding must be going through. He was also responsible for Reading's third goal at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday.

It is still early days for McGhee's new look and largely inexperienced team. He has refused to use the injury crisis as an excuse but the return of senior players and of the suspended Leon Knight cannot come quickly enough.

Plymouth are the type of team Albion need to take points from this season in order to survive.

Last season the Seagulls held Argyle to a 3-3 draw at Home Park and beat them 2-1 at Withdean in January, yet they still finished 13 points adrift of the Second Division champions.

Bobby Williamson has replaced fellow Scot Paul Sturrock as manager since then. The former Hibernian boss strengthened the squad in the summer by signing a quintet of players from the Scottish Premier League but mid-table consolidation will surely be the limit of their ambitions.

Albion's form at Withdean, the bedrock of their successes in recent years, will be more important than ever with trips to the likes of Wigan and Leicester to come later this month.

McGhee pointed out before last night's fixture that the underwhelming nature of Albion's temporary abode will be less of an advantage this time because players in the First Division are mentally stronger.

His opinion is borne out by the facts. The Seagulls won 17 matches at Withdean last season, just four when they were relegated from Division One the year before.

McGhee was forced into a change, with Charlie Oatway ruled out by the hamstring injury he sustained in the first half of Saturday's opening 3-2 defeat at Reading.

He had various options to fill the gap and plumped for the experience of Kerry Mayo, making his first start since St Valentine's Day in midfield rather than the leftback role he is more accustomed to.

The Seagulls did themselves no favours by conceding in chaotic fashion in the tenth minute. A well-struck free-kick from 35 yards by Paul Wotton, Argyle's captain and central defender, seemed to catch them by surprise.

Michel Kuipers scrambled to keep it out at the foot of his left hand post. In the melee which followed Danny Cullip headed against his own post and the assistant flagged to indicate the ball had crossed the line.

Kuipers, making his first home start since October, clearly did not think it had. He protested to referee Andy Hall during a break in play fully ten minutes after the incident.

Plymouth carved out plenty of opportunities in the opening 45 minutes, the majority of which fell to Marino Keith, who was preferred upfront to Micky Evans.

He forced Kuipers into a diving catch with a shot on the turn and should have doubled Albion's deficit in the 27th minute, heading over following an evasive run by Steve Adams.

Alexis Nicolas did more than anyone to get Albion going. The 21-year-old central midfielder, borrowed from Chelsea for three months, caught the eye with tidy approach play.

Nicolas combined well with fellow newcomers Albert Jarrett and Maheta Molango on one occasion, Jarrett crossing just too far in front of Albion's centre forward.

A neat chip forward by Nicolas nearly produced an equaliser, Luke McCormick's punch as he advanced off his line hitting Molango but rebounding to safety.

Albion's hopes of retrieving a result suffered a devastating blow in a six-minute spell before the break.

Harding, booked for a foul on Lee Hodges, saw red for a push inside the area on Keith which presented Plymouth with a penalty.

Wotton smashed in the spot-kick to put Argyle in the comfort zone.

Realistically the game was up for Albion from that moment on and the second half was, as much as anything, a damage limitation exercise.

McGhee admitted: "It was a poor performance, not what I expected after Saturday. We showed our naivety. We missed Charlie (Oatway), looked a bit lightweight and struggled to come to terms with the system (4-5-1).

"I don't have another striker of any stature available to lead the line. Jake Robinson isn't quite ready, I feel he is better coming off the bench.

"We are still learning about the players. I thought Darren Currie did well, Alexis Nicolas was excellent and the two centre halves were fine as usual.

"The standard has been a shock to some. People like Dan Harding and Adam Virgo are finding it harder than I think they thought it was going to be, but the reaction from this group of players has always been positive."

The bad news is that Albion had four more points at the corresponding stage two years ago. The good news is that from this point on they suffered a dozen straight defeats back then and it is far too early to think all is lost.

ALBION (4-5-1): Kuipers 6; Virgo 6, Cullip 6, Butters 7, Harding 5; Currie 6, Reid 5, Nicolas 8, Mayo 6, Jarrett 7; Molango 7. Subs: Hart for Molango (withdrawn 81), Jones 6 for Reid (withdrawn 46), Hinshelwood, Robinson 6 for Jarrett (withdrawn 58), May.

Bookings: Mayo (76, foul), Currie (77, foul)

Sent Off: Harding (39, foul and 44, foul)

PLYMOUTH ARGYLE: (4-4-2): McCormick; Worrell, Wotton, Coughlan, Gilbert; Lasley, Adams, Hodges, Capaldi; Keith, Crawford. Subs: Larrieu, Evans, Milne for Crawford (withdrawn 66), Lowndes for Hodges (withdrawn 81), Doumbe.

Scorers: Cullip (10, own goal), Wotton (45, penalty)

Booking: Worrell (25, foul)

Half-Time: Albion 0 Plymouth 2
Attendance: 6,387
Fans' View:

ROBERT TURNER (Burgess Hill): The refereeing decisions were awful, but there was no way we would have won anyway. Our midfield was non-existent and the back four looked very pedestrian. With all due respect to Kerry Mayo, I don't think he's a central midfielder.

JASON HARPER (Brighton): We made far too many basic individual errors, but McGhee has got to take a share of the blame for starting with a very negative 4-5-1 at home. We should have played 4-4-2 with Robinson up front, but the game was dead by the time Jake got on. Our midfield is still poor.

PAUL SPARROW (Horley): There were a couple of very disappointing decisions, but it was a poor performance and Plymouth definitely deserved to win. The midfield was poor and something has got to be done about that if we're going to be competitive in this division. Dan Harding was unlucky to be sent off.

DAVID GOODWIN (Burgess Hill): McGhee has got to rethink his tactics. Plymouth are one of the teams we've got to beat, especially at home, if we're going to stay in this division. The referee was picky, didn't allow the game to flow and could have been more lenient with the sending off.