Tranmere are back up to third in the National League tonight following an incredible late turn-around at Maidstone.
Rovers trailed 2-1 going in to the final five minutes, but an own goal and a last-gasp penalty from Adam Buxton meant that Micky Mellon’s team returned to the Wirral with three priceless points.
It had all the signs of an awkward fixture ahead of time, but when the team sheets were released before kick-off this afternoon, Tranmere’s challenge appeared even tougher still.
Missing were Steve McNulty, Liam Ridehalgh, Eddie Clarke and Josh Ginnelly, while Ben Tollitt was on the bench purely due to a lack of available players – Mellon keen not to risk the winger as he continues his comeback from a serious knee injury. A 4G pitch takes its toll on players, so Mellon was keen to avoid risking the likes of Tollitt and McNulty.
Jack Dunn was given a rare start, there was a debut for on-loan Manny Monthe, while midfielder Jeff Hughes had to fill-in at left back. There was a return to the bench for Mitch Duggan, and youngster Josh Solomon-Davies was also named as one of the five subs alongside Rhys Taylor, Ben Tollitt and Andy Mangan.
Rovers started okay, with midfielders Jay Harris and Ollie Norburn both firing early shots off. The hosts were soon on-top as Tranmere struggled to get a foot-hold.
Shortly before the half hour, Maidstone took the lead. Jai Reason’s delivery from a free-kick caused chaos in the Rovers box with a lack of communication, and Alex Finney poked the ball home.
The visitors reacted well, and Andy Cook was gifted his 16th goal of the season to get Tranmere on level terms on 39 minutes as he turned home an Adam Buxton cross that had brought out the worst in Maidstone’s defenders.
Before you could draw breath though, the home side were back in front. Turgott raced in to the area and went down under a challenge from Buxton. Penalty. It looked harsh from the away end, but Ross Lafayette made no mistake to score from the spot and give Maidstone the half-time lead.
Before the half-time whistle however, more problems. Jeff Hughes went off with a hamstring injury, replaced by Mitch Duggan. Adam Buxton went to left back, Duggan to right, and Tranmere limped through to the break.
There was a mild improvement after the break, but it was minimal. Micky Mellon changed the formation to 3-5-2 in an attempt to get something out of his team, and poor Mitch Duggan was hauled off to allow Ben Tollitt to come on and play on the opposite wing to Jack Dunn.
James Norwood had been ineffective and struggled to make an impact, and on 81 minutes he was replaced by Andy Mangan.
Just when all looked to be lost, Tranmere grabbed an equaliser in the 85th minute. A great delivery from Jack Dunn found Cook who helped the ball toward Andy Mangan. It appeared as though Mangan had turned the ball home, but it looks like being credited as an own goal. Either way, it was 2-2.
Rovers had to ensure they didn’t immediately drop their guard and concede again. However, amazingly, the opposite happened.
The away side surged forward again, Connor Jennings getting in to the box before being brought down. Stone wall penalty. Not even a National League referee could ignore this one. Penalty in the 88th minute, and a chance to swipe an unlikely three points.
Adam Buxton stepped up to smash the ball home. 2-3. Incredible.
Anyone that has followed Tranmere for any period of time will know that it’s never too late for the opposition to score. A nervy four minutes (and the rest!) stoppage time was played, the home side missing an unbelievable chance to level again, a point-blank header directed straight at a grateful Scott Davies.
The full-time whistle sounded a short time later to a mix of relief and delight in the away end.
Wrexham and Aldershot continue to fall over themselves, and indeed each other today, in their battle to keep pace with the leaders, the two sides drawing 2-2 at the Racecourse.
Macclesfield found a winner late in injury time to stay comfortably out front (7 clear of Tranmere), while Sutton smashed Guiseley 4-0 to stay second. Rovers back to third.
Fylde are in to the play-off spots courtesy of a 3-1 win over Dover, that after going in to the final 25 minutes 0-1 behind. Boreham Wood drew a blank in a 0-0 draw at Woking, while Bromley were not in league action, instead playing in the FA Trophy.