Seyi Olofinjana finally found a way past Plymouth three minutes from time but McCarthy’s Premier League ambitions have evaporated for another season.
The former Republic of Ireland manager has paid the price for a miserable end to last year and Watford’s draw at Blackpool left Wolves two goals short of sneaking into the top six.
McCarthy has been assured his job is safe for another season by chairman and owner Steve Morgan, with funds also expected to be made available, and he insisted last night that he can mastermind another promotion bid next season.
He said: “The lads are devastated down there in the dressing room, which is bizarre considering we’ve won the game.
“We’ve had loads of chances and not scored three goals — it’s not as if we nicked it 1-0 which makes it more disappointing.
“But I think we will be stronger next season. There are a lot of young players hungry for another go. They will come back ready to go one step further next season.”
The Molineux moaners could have been in full voice early in the second half when Jamie Mackie shot wide for Plymouth and then headed straight at Wayne Hennessey.
And although Olofinjana punctured the tedium with a cool finish late on, after a sublime pass from substitute Freddy Eastwood, even a victory was not enough to save their play-off bid
Hennessey 5, Foley 6 (Elliott 89), Elokobi 5, Craddock 6, Breen 7, Henry 6, Olofinjana 6, Jarvis 6, Kightly 6 (Gray 84, 5), Ebanks-Blake 5, Keogh 5 (Eastwood 64, 5).
McCormick 6, Doumbe 6, Sawyer 7, Anderson 6, Timar 8 (Folly 78, 5), Abdou 6, Mackie 7, Summerfield 6, Clark 6 (Teale 68, 6), Fallon 6, Easter 5 (MacLean 45, 6).
Folly, Smith, Larrieu.
Mike Pike (Barrow) 7: Perfectly assured performance, with little to deal with in terms of controversy.
* The equivalent of the death of a thousand cuts for Mick McCarthy. Wolves’ lack of urgency ultimately cost them in the end.