Tranmere Rovers fell to defeat on the road after a short journey to Crewe Alexandra, suffering a 3-2 loss to the Railwaymen at Gresty Road.
After a disappointing 3-3 draw last weekend in the FA Cup against non-league Oxford City, Rovers again didn’t quite look their usual selves against a sharp side in Alex.
Micky Mellon brought Luke McCullough back into the side, hoping he would bring a bit of midfield solidity to the team which was cut open a bit too easily last weekend.
And Rovers didn’t start badly. There were few efforts on goal from either side, but Tranmere looked the more fluid and comfortable in possession, if a little lacking in the final third.
Connor Jennings tried his luck from distance but his shot was straight at the goalkeeper, before a dangerous cross by Ollie Banks had to headed away from goal by a defender as Rovers looked the more likely to open the scoring.
At the other end, Scott Davies had to make a smart save to deny Callum Ainley as the hosts slowly began to get a foothold into the game after a quarter of an hour.
And it was the home team who would get the first goal, with that man Ainley getting himself on the scoresheet. He tried his luck from 25 yards, the ball took a wicked deflection which wrong-footed Davies with it nestling nicely into the bottom corner of the net.
There was almost an immediate response, as straight from the kick-off, Banks slammed a low left-footed shot which was well dealt with the Crewe goalkeeper.
Davies was again on hand to make a good save as a powerful shot from distance had to be watched and palmed away from danger before Rovers drew back to level terms before half time.
James Norwood netted his 14th of the season and it was all from his own hard work. A ball forward was put into an area for him to contest for it. He won that contest, twisted and turned before slamming the ball home from the edge of the penalty area.
He could have sent Tranmere in ahead at the break just before the half time whistle, as again he won possession in the attacking third, drove on goal but his toe poked effort drifted inches wide of the far post.
Unfortunately, Rovers couldn’t continue the good spell they had at the end of the first half into the beginning of the second, and they fell behind nine minutes after the restart.
Crewe worked the ball from the left to right, and it found its way to Ainley once more who struck a firm shot across the face of goal and in at the far post.
Micky Mellon made a change on the hour-mark, introducing Larnell Cole into the fray in place of Harvey Gilmour.
But six minutes later, they found themselves two goals behind as Crewe extended their advantage.
Poor marking from a deep cross from the right meant that Charlie Kirk had too much space at the back post. He took advantage of that by volleying past Davies and giving Mellon’s men a mountain to climb.
Paul Mullin was brought on to replace Jonny Smith as Rovers brought fresh attacking impetus to the table.
And indeed Mullin would make it interesting when he netted from close range to reduce the deficit to a solitary goal. Banks fired in a low and hard cross from the right hand side and Mullin was on hand to divert the ball over the line to make for a frantic finale.
Huff and puff they did, but Rovers could not blow the house down. The home side using all the tricks in the book to run the clock down, slow the game down and agitate the Tranmere players, saw the game out and got a deserved victory.
For Rovers, it’s a midweek trip down to Oxford for a FA Cup replay next. They’ll need to show all the quality and spirit they have shown in spades already this season, to put today’s disappointment behind them and ensure a place in the second round and a tie with Southport.