Tranmere were made to settle for a replay in the FA Cup for the second consecutive round as they struggled to a 1-1 draw at home to Southport.
With Ollie Banks injured and Luke McCullough ineligible, Micky Mellon handed starts to Harvey Gilmour and Jay Harris in the centre of midfield. Liam Ridehalgh was given a start at left-back while Adam Buxton and Ben Tollitt both returned to the substitutes bench.
Rovers started the game okay, Paul Mullin doing a lot of pressing from the front which helped Tranmere push the visitors back. However, Southport enjoyed a solid opening 15 minutes, and while they didn’t create any clear openings, they did pass the ball well and force a couple of early corners.
Tranmere were dealt an early blow as well. Winger Dylan Mottley-Henry looked to have pulled his hamstring after being fouled by a Southport player. The on loan Barnsley winger was substituted and replaced by Jonny Smith.
Rovers looked most likely to find joy up the left as Ridehalgh and Jennings pushed Southport back when they could. It was Ridehalgh who was to have a hand in the opening goal.
As they did against Oxford City in the first round, Rovers took the lead. Jonny Smith picked the ball up on the right side the penalty area after a cross-field ball from Ridehalgh was expertly controlled by Norwood. The on loan Bristol City man cut in on to his favoured left foot and sent a sumptuous curling effort in to the far corner.
After Tranmere’s poor display at home to Oxford in the last round, the home fans will have been hoping that lessons had been learned and the game would be put to bed. If only.
Instead Rovers retreated as Southport grew in confidence. A succession of corners, free-kicks and long throw-ins put the hosts under pressure and led to a scuffle with McNulty at the heart of it. Mellon’s men held firm until the interval to take a 1-0 lead in to the second half.
Another blow for Tranmere at half-time as Paul Mullin was replaced, presumably injured. Ben Tollitt came on in his place as Rovers looked like adopting more of a 4-5-1 in the second half.
Any hopes that the change may help to sustain some possession were mis-founded. Instead, Rovers were to be totally outplayed for pretty much the entire second half. Southport were playing the ball around like they were the team two divisions higher, while having a long-throw expert helped turn every throw in the Tranmere half in to another set-piece.
It was a siege, and one we struggled to keep at bay. McNulty and Monthe were being hounded at every set play, dominated more than at any other point this season as ball after ball was thrown on top of them and Davies.
On a rare break forwards, Connor Jennings squandered a wonderful opportunity to double the lead and put Rovers out of reach, but his effort from a tight angle was pulled wide. It was to prove costly.
Back came Southport, but for all of the free-kicks and well-worked corners, it was a piece of sheer magic that lit the game up and got them on terms. Bradley Bauress was left with room to move about 35 yards from goal and unleashed a left-footed pile driver that flew over Davies and high into the net.
Now the visitors were in the ascendency. Tranmere spent the remainder of the game desperately holding on to the draw. Former Rover Devarn Green came on for Southport and had a golden opportunity to win it but flashed his shot well over the bar.
As for Tranmere chances, Jonny Smith saw a right-footed effort tipped over the bar after being played in by Tollitt, while Tollitt himself skipped past three tackles before being denied a shooting opportunity by a last-ditch tackle.
In the dying seconds, Connor Jennings tried his luck from range but his stinging drive went inches wide and over of the frame of the goal. The final whistle was met with boos and jeers from the home fans and a worrying run of form continues. Micky Mellon needs to breathe life back into his team asap.