Two late goals from supersub Siggy Eyjolfsson clinched Walsall’s victory, but not before Division Three Plymouth had given them a really tough fight.
The Saddlers had to rely on some fine saves from ‘keeper James Walker, who kept them in the game at vital times against a useful and workmanlike Argyle side.
At one stage, it looked as though the Mariners would still be in the hunt for their home leg in a fortnight’s time, but Walsall proved to have just that too much extra fire-power even after missing some chances.
Yet there were a lot of good pointers for Plymouth particularly in the impressive performance by 17-year-old striker Ian Stonebridge who scored their only goal.
For Walsall, Eyjolfsson looks to be worth a permanent place in the side, whilst newcomers Tony Barras and Gabor Bukran impressed once again.
Both sides made a good start and the first of the two ‘keepers into action was Argyle’s Ken Veysey who saved a neat header from Dean Keates.
However, the Division One side always had to be on their toes and in the fifth minute Chris Hargreaves sent a header narrowly over from a corner by Chris Leadbitter.
Then Plymouth were to the fore again when Mike Heathcote headed wide from a free-kick by Hargreaves.
It was end to end with Walker having to go down low to save from Stonebridge in the 13th minute and ten minutes later Walsall’s former Manchester United striker Mark Robins shot wide from close range.
In the 26th minute experienced Andy Rammell looked as though he would score the opening goal from a long throughball by impressive skipper Neil Pointon, but the big striker failed to control the ball.
Robins, the main culprit for missing Walsall’s chances, had a 31st-minute header go wide and two minutes later winger Darren Wrack missed a sitter when Heathcote slipped in trying to clear a pass by Chris Marsh.
Bukran found a moment to savour in the 35th minute. The former Hungarian Under-21 international scored his first goal for the club, a neat finish when a fine cross by Wrack was pulled back by Rammell.
Then Walker had to make a great one-handed save from Stonebridge to preserve Walsall’s tenous lead, and indeed it was not long before Argyle equalised. The goal came two minutes before the interval following a fine run by player assistant-manager Steve McCall and a shot by Hargreaves rebounded off Stonebridge’s back to leave Walker no chance.
Plymouth remained well in the hunt until well into the second half, although Veysey had to make a good 50th-minute save from Robins, who also sent yet another header wide five minutes later.
A turning point came in the 65th minute when home manager Ray Graydon made a double substitution, bringing on Bjarnolfur Larusson in midfield for Dean Keates and Darko Mavrak wide for Tony Daley.
Nine minutes later it was Mavrak who threaded through a superb pass for Robins to open his account for Walsall with a delightful curling shot over the header of Veysey.
Stonebridge almost snatched it back for Plymouth with a low 25-yard shot which Walker saved.
But then Graydon played his big trump card when bringing on Eyjolfsson for Rammell in the 80th minute.
Although Hargreaves missed a headed chance for Plymouth, Walsall closed the match up when Eyjolfsson stunned the visitors with two goals in five minutes.
First of all, Pointon found the tall Icelandic striker who finished clinically from an acute angle in the 84th minute.
Eyjolfsson then accepted a magnificent pass from Robins to score once again with just a minute remaining.
Indeed Eyjolfsson might well have had a hat-trick but sent a towering header narrowly over with seconds to go.