Newcastle United 2
Carroll 20, Routledge 28
HOPE that has flickered fitfully in and around Home Park in recent weeks was ruthlessly extinguished by the Coca-Cola Championship champions in Argyle's penultimate home game of a thoroughly disappointing season.
For nearly 20 minutes, a miracle escape from relegation looked slimly possible, as Argyle took the game to their ultimately superior-in-every-way visitors. Indeed, the Pilgrims should have taken the lead - certainly once and maybe twice - in the opening minutes.
In the end, though, dreams are for those who sleep and the natural order of the football world reasserted itself: after less than half an hour, it was obvious to everyone at Home Park and a watching Sky TV audience that we were witnessing a Premier League team toy with a League One side.
By then, Andrew Carroll and Wayne Routledge had exposed the Greens' greenhorn defence twice with chilling efficiency to claim the title for the Toon and put the Pilgrims back into the third tier for the first time in seven seasons. Forget Argyle v Newcastle for the time being - in three games' time, it could be Argyle v Rochdale.
However, as football people will have it, it is not now about relegation: it is about how all at the club - from the boardroom to the dressing-room, from the chairman to the charwoman, and everywhere and everyone in between - reacts to that relegation. Most important of all, the Green Army surely needs to rally round the flag.
Paul Mariner had promised - and got - a positive reaction from his team that capitulated last time out at Watford. It was asking too much to reverse season-long form, however.
The Argyle head coach's own reaction to that disappointing - and probably costly - reversal had been to juggle his midfield.
The recovery of Carl Fletcher from a gashed knee and subsequent calf tweak, allowed him to recall the inspirational skipper at the expense of the, frankly, unlucky Chris Clark, while Yala Bolasie, who looked jaded at Vicarage Road, was replaced by Alan Judge.
Newcastle manager Chris Hughton had made four changes to the side that had won last time out at Reading the previous week, recalling Fitz Hall and Jose Enrique to defence, Joey Barton to midfield and Carroll to attack.
Fabricio Coloccini, Ryan Taylor, Jonas Gutierrez and Shola Ameobi were the men to give way, with Taylor and Ameobi taking their place on a bench of substitutes, any of whom would probably get a regular starting place in the Pilgrims' side.
Argyle should have given the champions-in-waiting a bloody nose in the opening minutes. First, Damien Johnson broke free on the right edge of the penalty area and cut the ball back for Jamie Mackie, whose shot was well saved by Steve Harper.
From the subsequent corner, Bondz N'Gala escaped slipshod marking to meet Judge's delivery with a meaty header, but - story of the Greens' season - could not find the target.
Newcastle settled for containment mode and stood firm in the face of Argyle's bustle, with Hall looking particularly cool.
The summery evening; the Toon Army's joviality; the Green Army's appreciation of both and of the going-down-fighting spirit of their players - all of these combined to make for a great atmosphere, which, in turn, made for a decent encounter.
It was difficult to escape the impression, however, that Newcastle were not in top gear, and that feeling was reinforced midway through the half when Danny Guthrie split the Pilgrims' defence to play in Carroll, whose long-range curler contained insouciance, but lacked direction.
No matter. The same pair combined from a corner soon afterwards for Carroll to beat Réda Johnson a little too easily and send a looping header past David Stockdale and into a gaping hole on his left-hand side which Onismor Bhasera had failed to fill.
Within eight minutes, it was all over bar the shouting. Barton was given too much time in midfield to thread a fine pass in behind Bhasera for Routledge to run on to and slot home from a tight angle.
Mackie kept Newcastle keen with a smart volley that forced Harper into a half-length save, while Bradley Wright-Phillips went close with a long-range larrup, but Newcastle were back in cruise-control.
They barely raised an eyebrow as Judge swivelled to smash a shot from the edge of the area that beat Harper but scorched just wide of the post and hit the post supporting the goal-netting. We thought we had scored, but we hadn't.
The second half saw Argyle in the middle of a party at which they had little desire to be at.
They went through the motions fairly well for all that, though. Judge rattled Harper's crossbar with swervy dipper, again from long range, but that was as close as the sinking Pilgrims went down with good grace.
That is it, then - no more looking at the bottom of the league table, working out the permutations; no more asking how Sheffield Wednesday or Crystal Palace had gone;no tears goodbye.
We are down.
But we will be back.
Argyle (4-4-2): 21 David Stockdale; 23 Richard Eckersley, 29 Bondz N'Gala, 22 Réda Johnson, 35 Onismor Bhasera (36 Yala Bolasie 81); 2 Karl Duguid, 7 Damien Johnson, 4 Carl Fletcher (capt), 25 Alan Judge; 8 Jamie Mackie, 10 Bradley Wright-Phillips (32 Joe Mason 75). Substitutes (not used): 1 Romain Larrieu (gk), 6 Chris Clark, 11 Kári Árnason, 14 Rory Fallon, 15 Chris Barker.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): 1 Steve Harper; 12 Danny Simpson, 5 Fitz Hall (28 Tamás Kádár 83), 6 Mike Williamson, 3 Jose Enrique; 10 Wayne Routledge, 17 Alan Smith, 8 Danny Guthrie, 7 Joey Barton; 4 Kevin Nolan (20 Leon Best 71), 24 Andrew Carroll (23 Shola Ameobi 71). Substitutes (not used): 11 Peter Lovenkrands, 16 Ryan Taylor, 21 Fabrice Pancrate, 26 Tim Krul (gk).
Booked: Carroll 36.
Referee: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire).
Attendance: 13,111 (2,431 away).