Nottingham Forest 3
Earnshaw 19, N'Gala (o.g.) 34, Anderson 90
ARGYLE bade farewell to the luxury surroundings of away days in the second tier with an uninspiring performance at The City Ground.
Paul Mariner began preparations for a new life in a new league with a new formation, in the club's last Championship fixture on the road for 16 months. We hope.
Leading scorer Jamie Mackie missed the trip with a calf injury, while Karl Duguid dropped to the bench in the only other change from Monday's fate-sealing defeat to newly-crowned Champions Newcastle United at Home Park.
In came Joe Mason up front and Kari Arnason to a five-man midfield to make up an experimental looking line-up, as Argyle looked forward to playing without pressure for the first time in what frankly seems like years.
Any questions about Argyle's new-look shape were answered from kick-off, with Carl Fletcher anchoring the midfield and Mason and Alan Judge providing the width in a 4-5-1 set up.
If the new shape was supposed to offer greater solidity, it didn't look to be working as Robert Earnshaw latched on to Radoslaw Majewski's chip over the back four, only for David Stockdale to save with his legs. Earnshaw's only reprieve coming in the form of a belated linesman's flag.
Moments later Argyle were caught out again by another high ball over the defence, but Nathan Tyson failed to keep his shot down with only Stockdale to beat, before Earnshaw perfected the timing of his run to escape the attention of Bondz N'Gala and Reda Johnson, but the keeper's big left hand kept Forest's top scorer at bay.
Looking at the clock and with only 10 minutes gone, Argyle could quite conceivably be three down. No prizes for guessing why the hosts are unbeaten in 18 league games at The City Ground, with 16 wins along the way.
After a lightning quick start, Forest seemed happy to let Argyle play, as if challenging Mariner's charges to respond. The new wide duo of Mason and Judge nearly combined to good effect, but when the latter was forced wide, his resulting cross was delivered beyond the prowling Wright-Phillips on the penalty spot, and indeed every other player in the box.
Unfortunately for Argyle, an opening goal did not arrive with the ensuing spell of midfield possession, and "England's number one" or Lee Camp, as he is known to the rest of us, was still awaiting his first save.
At the other end, however, Mr Stockdale, having made a save that mattered and one that didn't, was beaten at the third attempt by Earnshaw after the most delightfully disguised pass through a back four I've seen all season. And so, despite Stockdale still being 2-1 in front in his personal duel with Forest's number 10, Argyle were now behind, and by this point deserved to be so.
One nearly became two before the half-hour, but Stockdale saved well from Tyson before Argyle at last registered a shot on target, though in truth Alan Judge's deflected shot from 25 yards was hardly worthy of the tag.
Frustration was growing, and within seconds, Reda Johnson and Richard Eckersley went into the referee's notebook - Johnson for a typically boisterous "tackle" on the touchline, Eckersley for a cynical tug at Tyson.
Judge produced a more threatening attempt to equalise when he forced Camp to sprawl to his left to parry a low drive from 12 yards; but Argyle were made to rue the miss when the thus-far impressive Stockdale surrendered his good work by pushing a simple cross into the torso of N'Gala for a goal so soft it had cotton wool all over it.
Just as two added minutes are signalled of first half stoppage time, Argyle were nearly caught out as Forest's 'man over' in another quick break - this time right-back James Perch - fires over via the leg outstretched leg of Kari Arnason, while Blackstock volleyed over from the resulting corner.
By now, Reda Johnson was really struggling and Paul Mariner brought Chris Clark into the fray to replace him before time was up, with Arnason dropping back to partner N'Gala in defence.
Half-time could not come soon enough for Argyle, but they started the second half much more positively - Wright-Phillips' smart turn and shot forced a last-ditch block, before Arnason headed over from Damien Johnson's free-kick.
Forest were awarded a free-kick of their own soon after for reasons unknown - Damien Johnson taking a whack remains the only explanation I can come up with even now - but in any case Earnshaw flighted his shot over the bar.
Second-half minutes ticked by with little to report - Forest wowing the Brian Clough Stand with the kind of slick passing the man himself would have been proud of, Argyle on a damage-limitation mission with the odd counter-attack to keep the home defence in check.
Substitute Yala Bolasie brought the travelling Green Army to their feet with a twist and a turn, but had them promptly back in their seats when his left foot shot was dragged between the far post and Mason's outstretched leg.
Paul Anderson added a late third for the hosts, and with just one more weekend ahead of this turbulent campaign, and Argyle must improve if they are to go down on a high.
Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): 1 Lee Camp (capt); 2 James Perch, 5 Wes Morgan, 6 Kelvin Wilson, 16 Chris Gunter; 15 Chris Cohen (7 Paul Anderson 67), 19 Guy Moussi, 28 Radoslaw Majewski, 11 Nathan Tyson (8 Lewis McGugan 87); 23 Dexter Blackstock (17 David McGoldrick 73), 10 Robert Earnshaw.
Subs not used: 4 Luke Chambers, 12 Garath McCleary, 14 Joe Garner, 17 David McGoldrick, 21 Paul Smith (gk).
Plymouth Argyle (4-5-1): 21 David Stockdale; 23 Richard Eckersley, 29 Bondz N'Gala, 22 Reda Johnson (6 Chris Clark 45), 35 Onismor Bhasera; 32 Joe Mason, 7 Damien Johnson, 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 11 Kari Arnason (15 Chris Barker 86), 25 Alan Judge; 10 Bradley Wright-Phillips (36 Yannick Bolasie 73).
Subs not used: 1 Romain Larrieu (gk), 2 Karl Duguid, 14 Rory Fallon, 20 Luke Summerfield.
Booked: Reda Johnson 30, Richard Eckersley 31, Damien Johnson 87
Attendance: 22,602 (461 away).