Tranmere’s five-match unbeaten run was brought to an end by table-toppers Cheltenham Town after Danny Wright’s early goal proved to be the difference between the sides at Prenton Park.
Rovers were looking to cement their presence in the play-off positions while the visitors hoped to achieve a club record by going 21 games unbeaten – their last defeat coming against Tranmere at Whaddon Road back on September 26.
With Liam Hogan back in full training, Gary Brabin had the luxury of a full squad to choose from – suspended captain Steve Jennings the only absentee – and opted to pair James Norwood up front with Michael Higdon.
Following a blistering start, the Robins took the lead as early as the third minute when a ball over the top from Asa Hall found Wright who smashed home for his 18th league goal of the season.
Rovers responded when Norwood’s touchline cross, found Gary Taylor-Fletcher who stabbed just wide of the post.
Liam Ridehalgh then produced an even better ball for Higdon but Dillon Phillips got down low to save his header.
Former Rovers midfielder James Rowe looked to extend Cheltenham’s lead in the 27th minute but Scott Davies pushed his 20-yard drive round the post.
Tranmere almost drew level moments later when Lois Maynard’s deflected shot wrong-footed Robins ‘keeper Phillips but trickled just wide of the goal.
The hosts continued to press for an equaliser and Cheltenham were forced to deal with successive crosses from Taylor-Fletcher and Ridehalgh.
Lee Vaughan then got to the by-line and Phillips was forced to punch away when the cross from the Tranmere fullback looked set to float into the top corner.
A mistake in midfield presented an opportunity to Maynard on the stroke of half time but his shot was blocked before Dan Holman blazed over at the other end as the half-time whistled sounded.
After the break Rovers only half dealt with a set piece from Rowe but James Dayton shot well wide.
Another ball over the top then beat the Rovers defence but with Davies rushing out, Wright could only lift the ball over the bar.
Davies was called into action again on 56 minutes, denying Wright when Tranmere struggled to clear their lines, before the Rovers ‘keeper scrambled to push wide a long-range effort from Holman ten minutes later.
With the home side struggling to create chances after the break, Brabin had introduced winger Adam Mekki on the hour in hope of making more use of the significant presence of Higdon.
Second Rovers substitute Jake Kirby worked a chance for himself but could not keep his balance and shot tamely.
With less than quarter of an hour to play a Mekki corner was met by Norwood’s head with Phillips tipping over, but the initial cross was ruled out of play.
Typically of Tranmere, they rallied late and when Norwood pulled back from the by-line Mekki fluffed a great chance, dragging his shot wide from eight yards out.
Another corner from Mekki found Higdon in the middle of goal three minutes from time but his header was straight into the hands of Phillips.
Frustrations boiled over during injury time with both Vaughan and Jay Harris taking exception to what they deemed to by play-acting by the Robins – the latter picked up a yellow card for his troubles.
It was to be the last major incident as the Robins held on to tighten their grip at the top of the league while Rovers must now look forward to getting back to winning ways next Sunday at local rivals Chester.
Manager Brabin said: "We didn’t start as well as we would have liked and they’ve come out the blocks, scored an early goal and punished us.
"We said before the game we hoped for a strong official but we didn’t feel like we got that today.
"That aside I thought we had good chances today, two good headers from Higdon and Maynard. We’ve headed them straight at the keeper. It’s frustrating.
"I thought they (Cheltenham) looked strong and that’s why they’re up there. They’ve ground out the result.
"We just felt there were a lot of little decisions going against us and I think everyone felt that watching the game today."
Tranmere Rovers: 0
Cheltenham Town: 1 Wright (3 mins)
Half time: 0-1
Star man: James Rowe (Cheltenham left midfielder)
Ref rating: Martin Coy (6/10)
Tranmere (4-4-2): Davies (player rating) 7; Vaughan 5, McNulty 7, Ihiekwe 6, Ridehalgh 6; Taylor Fletcher 6 (Mekki 59, 6), Maynard 6, Harris 7; Hughes 5 (Kirby 70, 6); Norwood 5, Higdon 6.
Subs not used: Turner, Sutton, Mackreth
Cheltenham Town (4-4-2): Phillips (player rating) 6, Barthram 6 (Munns, 74, 6), Parslow 7, Burgess 7, McLennan 6, Dayton 7 (Cranston 65, 6), Storer 7, Hall 7, Rowe 7, Wright 7, Holman 6.
Subs not used: Kitscha, Waters, Lymn