Tranmere Rovers have ensured that the season will be prolonged as they confirmed their place within the Sky Bet League Two play-offs following a 1-1 draw against Bury at Prenton Park.
Victory would have kept automatic promotion hopes alive until the final day, but a Jake Caprice own goal in the second half cancelled out James Norwood’s opener in the first period.
Ben Pringle and Liam Ridehalgh were introduced back into the starting XI to replace Zoumana Bakayogo and Paul Mullin with David Perkins and Steve McNulty recovering sufficiently from injury to take their place among the substitutes.
It was an entertaining game between two of the top sides in the division, with Bury going close early on.
After creating problems in the Rovers penalty area, the ball fall to Nicky Adams outside the 18 yard box but his effort flew over the crossbar.
Tranmere broke the deadlock on 10 minutes through the most reliable of sources. Kieron Morris’ right wing corner was met by a downward header from James Norwood who netted his 30th goal of a prolific season. Despite the Bury defence trying to clear the ball in the goalmouth, the ball had crossed the line.
Rovers were then on top and looking to add to their advantage. Ollie Banks forced former Rovers goalkeeper Joe Murphy into a routine save midway through the first half before Jay Harris set up Norwood inside the penalty area, but Murphy made a good save to deny goal number 31.
The Shakers still carried a threat and should have drawn level when the ball found Dominic Telford in acres of space inside the penalty area but he scuffed his shot wide with only Scott Davies to beat.
Tranmere ended the first half strongly and could have extended their lead before the break. Connor Jennings did well to break through two challenges on the right but his shot went across the face of goal and wide before Norwood saw another effort parried by Murphy.
Knowing a point was needed to secure automatic promotion, Bury came out like a house on fire at the beginning of the second half.
Davies was being kept busy in the Tranmere goal and he made a number of outstanding saves to deny Jay O’Shea and twice Nicky Maynard as the Shakers piled on the pressure.
And that pressure took its toll on 56 minutes when Danny Mayor sent in a low cross, it rebounded back to him and his second effort was turned into his own net by Jake Caprice.
Rovers had a golden chance to restore their lead soon after, though, as Norwood picked up on a loose ball inside the area, turned and fired a powerful shot which Murphy somehow tipped over the bar.
The game was stretched in the later stages with Tranmere knowing only victory would maintain automatic promotion hopes. They pushed players forward and threw balls into the box, but the Bury defence was manful and stood firm.
The visitors could have sealed victory in the final five minutes when Mayor’s low cross just missed the outstretched leg of Maynard in front of goal.
And so it was a point apiece. For Bury, it means they will play League One football next season after confirming automatic promotion. For Rovers, a play-off berth is secured, making an extended season for the third time in a row.
Well done to Micky Mellon, the staff and, of course, the players. They have done the club and its supporters proud. Hope you haven’t booked plans for May, it could be a busy month for Rovers! Strap yourselves in! First up, the final game of the regular season at Crawley Town on Saturday.