Macclesfield Town................1 (1-2 agg)
Tranmere were denied a trip to Wembley as Macclesfield dumped them out of the FA Trophy in a tight semi-final second leg at Prenton Park.
Ollie Norburn scored the crucial goal for the Silkmen mid-way through the second half and they were able to hold on to secure a passage to the final leaving Rovers with the bitter taste of disappointment.
Micky Mellon opted for a change in formation – reverting to a flat back four with Ritchie Sutton dropping down to the bench.
Adam Mekki was included with a mandate for providing much-needed creativity in midfield, while the high-scoring strike duo of Andy Cook and James Norwood returned up front at the expense of Andy Mangan and Cole Stockton.
Played out in front a lively cup atmosphere in soggy conditions, Jay Harris produced the first effort of the match in the seventh minute – his low 20-yard drive comfortably held by Scott Flinders.
Harris would have a better chance five minutes later, when Jeff Hughes rolled a corner into his path, but the ex-Chester midfielder could only knock his snap shot over the bar.
The Silkmen responded just past the quarter of an hour mark, when Rhys Browne dragged a long-range effort well wide of Scott Davies’ goal.
A free kick from Hughes on 25 minutes sailed past everyone into the clutches of Flinders, as both sides struggled to make an impact in the opening period.
On the half-hour mark Brown ghosted around the back of Liam Ridehalgh, but Davies was alert to the danger and rushed out to force a corner.
Six minutes before the interval a break from Mekki found Norwood, who sold his marker the wrong way before firing in a front post shot that was saved by the legs of Flinders.
Kingsley James had the freedom of the Tranmere penalty area when he received a free kick from Luke Summerfield, but his downward header lacked venom and Davies was able to collect.
Norwood had another good effort saved by Flinders on the stroke of halftime as the tie remained very much in the balance at the mid-way point.
Rovers started the second half on the front foot when a neat turn and cross from Norwood found Mekki, but his shot was blocked by David Fitzpatrick.
The Silkmen responded with Summerfield firing a low ball into the six yard box that Davies dealt with bravely.
The visitors continued to press and when James fired a shot wide into the Cow Sheds it was a welcome end to the Macclesfield attack for Tranmere.
Flinders held another long-range drive from Harris, as both sides started to jab their opponent.
A cross from Ridehalgh was nodded back across goal by Mekki for Norwood, but the striker misstimed his volley horribly and the chance was gone.
Then on the break Macclesfield raced down the other end before Ollie Norburn rattled the crossbar, bringing the tie the life.
Flinders easily held Andy Cook’s header from Lee Vaughan’s cross as the Bebington Kop started to raise the decibel levels.
But in the 68th minute the visitors took the lead in the tie for the first time, when Norburn – who had score in the first leg at Moss Rose – ricocheted the ball past Steve McNulty before firing the ball past Davies into the corner of the net.
Galvanised into action, Rovers went on the attack, with Mekki firing a low shot just wide.
In front of a baying Kop Tranmere threw an assault at the Macclesfield goal but had Davies to thank as he tipped a shot from Chris Holroyd round his near post on a counter attack.
Pilkington then shaved the post from the resultant corner as Tranmere continued to live dangerously.
With ten minutes to play, Mellon threw on Mangan for Mekki in search of a desperate equaliser.
But Tranmere were all out of ideas - and in truth Macclesfield were able to see out to closing stages of the contest with relative ease.
Rovers are left to concentrate on their primary goal of promotion back to the football league - with which a trip to Wembley via the play-offs is still a possibility.
Mellon told Globe Sport: "I am gutted for everyone else, that’s my initial emotion.
"It's a hard one for us but I think we have to say congratulations to Macclesfield.
"I think over the course of the two games probably just edged it.
"We just didn’t have that wee bit of cutting edge that we needed in that final third.
"Nors (James Norwood) had a couple of chances earlier on. In tight games, if it's going to go for you, they've got to go in.
"It's a great finish from their point of view.
We’ll be disappointed that we lost a midfield runner and we don’t deal with it a little bit better. But certainly the lad's hit it very sweetly and finishes it very well.
"It was going to take a goal like that to separate the two teams today.
"We all know about the trouble we have with wide players – we’re probably missing two of the better ones at this level.
"When you needed that bit of quality out wide when you needed to get around people, we never had that today.
"That was glaringly obvious from today's game."
Tranmere Rovers 0
Macclesfield Town 1, Norburn, 68
Half time: 0-0
Star man: Ollie Norburn Surname (Macclesfield midfielder)
Ref rating: John Brooks (7/10)
Tranmere (4-2-3-1): Davies player rating 7; Vaughan 7, McNulty 6, Ihiekwe 7, Ridehalgh 6; Mekki 6 (Mangan 80, 6), Hughes 6, Harris 7, C Jennings 5; Cook 5, Norwood 7.
Subs not used: Turner, Sutton, Buxton, Stockton
Macclesfield (4-1-4-1): Flinders player rating 7, Halls 6 (McCombe 79, 6), Byrne 7 (Dudley 86, NA), Pilkington 7, Fitzpatrick 7; James 7; Browne 6, Norburn 8 (Whitaker 82, 6), Summerfield 7, Hancox 6; Holroyd 6
Subs not used: Ross, Thorne