Having enjoyed a wonderful start to life back in the EFL, Tranmere fans were given a stark reminder of how tough life can against non-league teams as Oxford City went within minutes of knocking Rovers out of the FA Cup.
City led twice during a game in which they dominated, pegged back by James Norwood late on as the game finished 3-3. Great for the neutral, not so great for the SWA.
Rovers fielded a strong team for the visit of the National League South side, with only Luke McCullough missing due to being denied permission to play by parent club Doncaster Rovers. Other than that, Micky Mellon opted for a strong line-up.
However, from very early on in the game it looked like Rovers were going to make hard work of the tie. An early spell of possession seemed to make the home side complacent, and they never hit any sort of rhythm of tempo as a result.
The visitors looked strong and had a goal ruled out for offside before Tranmere did take the lead, Connor Jennings converting from the edge of the box after neat build-up play.
However, Oxford City deservedly equalised after a mix-up in Tranmere’s defence. It was illustrative of the entire team performance.
Tranmere boss Mellon introduced Ben Tollitt at half-time in an attempt to spark his team in to life, but it failed. The visitors always looked the more likely to score, and on 65 minutes they did just that to lead 1-2.
Rovers somehow would level again despite showing absolutely no promise of doing so, Jennings again the scorer as Rovers did at last threaten to get in to some rhythm after the goal. However, two minutes later, they trailed again.
Oxford’s hat-trick hero Tshimanga looked to have put his side in to the second round after finding himself with an open goal after more woeful defending.
As much as we love Micky and just about every player in the squad, how Bakayogo wasn’t brought on for Buxton was a mystery – Rovers were being beaten up their left time and again.
As our FA Cup campaign looked set to end in an early exit and significant embarrassment, top scorer James Norwood found himself unmarked to poke home from a set-piece in the 89th minute.
Make no mistake, Tranmere deserved to lose this. They were out-played and out-fought throughout. Probably even out-thought.
Mellon was left seething at full-time, conceding that the performance was a long way below the standard that he expects from his players and from himself.
That said, we somehow live to fight another day and must now go to a replay.