Paul Carden’s honeymoon period as interim manager was brought to an abrupt end as understrength Tranmere slipped to a miserable defeat at home to Gateshead on Tuesday evening.
Sam Jones scored the only goal of the game for the Tynesiders – who also fielded a depleted side – leaving Rovers with only one win in their last seven matches.
With numerous first team absentees, Carden handed first starts to Mitch Duggan – who had impressed as a substitute at Dagenham – Elliot Osborne and Ethan Jones.
Jay Harris returned to midfield after a lay-off, but Adam Mekki was joined in the sick tent by James Norwood, who picked up a thigh injury at Dagenham on Saturday.
After an uneventful start, the visitors had the first chance when the head of Nyal Bell met a cross from Mitch Brundle, but under pressure from McNulty he could only sick it over the bar.
Jones then got a head start on Osborne down the middle before shooting wide before Wes York tested Scott Davies from distance, as Rovers struggled to get going.
They finally fashioned an effort on goal after quarter of an hour, with Osborne slicing one wide from 20 yards.
A drilled free kick from Harris was pushed round the post by Dan Hanford on 21 minutes as Rovers started to put Gateshead under some pressure.
The Tynesiders’ keeper had to be on his guard to prevent a looping cross from McNulty creeping in at the far post, catching it above his head on the line.
Russell Penn pulled an effort wide on the half hour mark but he was never likely to wake the muted crowd.
Six minutes before the break a Liam Ridehalgh free kick broke in the box for Ritchie Sutton, but with the chance to score his first goal for Tranmere he pushed his shot wide.
With no changes at the interval, the home support tried to rile their team into some sort of performance.
Instead it was the visitors who took the lead in the 51st minute when Jones side footed home from close range following a cross from former Wrexham midfielder York.
That was Gateshead’s first goal in nearly seven hours of football.
Minutes later Ben Tollitt entered the fray, replacing the anonymous Louis Almond, as Rovers looked to force their way back into the match.
A cross from Duggan was glanced wide by Kirby before Ridehalgh was forced to nod a deep cross to safety at the other end.
Tranmere were slow to regroup and only a last ditch clearance from McNulty denied York a second for Gateshead.
Former Rovers defender Liam Hogan nearly put through his own net on the hour, diverting a cross from Jones just over his own crossbar.
Eager to run at his opponents, Tollitt cut inside on 65 five minutes but fired his 20 yard effort over the bar into the disgruntled Kop.
With Rovers still chasing the game, Darren Stephenson came on for Jake Kirby and within minutes he fired a shot on goal from the right hand side of the box that was saved by Hanford.
A cross from Duggan found the head of Andy Cook, but after his first attempt was blocked, the ex-Barrow striker put his rebound wide.
With two minutes remaining, Stephenson broke free in the box but saw his indecisive cross cleared, before McNulty stuck a header wide from the subsequent corner.
With six minutes of injury time, Rovers rallied but it was too little too late and while the wait the for arrival of a new manager continues, Carden must find a way of motivating his players – and the fans – ahead of Saturday’s tough-looking clash with Wrexham, before Tranmere’s season totally unravels.
Carden told Globe Sport: "Effort is the minimum requirement, that will never be in question, but what there needs to be is more thought and tonight their wasn’t enough in our play.
“We’ve had a bit of a rally up at the end but again, surely that is a minimum.
“I thought on the few occasions when we did get wingers coming inside and we got Mitch Duggan on the ball in the second half, we did create a one or two openings but our final ball either let us down or our quality going into the box wasn’t there.
“We’ve put that side together today – James Norwood had to have a fitness test – but it’s not excuses or valid reasons.
“We’ve had seven players from the team that started the season out tonight and if you take seven players out of any team you are going to feel it.
"But having said that we do still need to be better. Unfortunately tonight we didn’t have enough.”
The result left Rovers in ninth place in the National League. Their clash with rivals Wrexham kicks-off at 12.15pm this Saturday at Prenton Park.
Tranmere Rovers: 0
Gateshead: 1 (Jones, 51)
Half time: 0-0
Star man: Steve McNulty (Tranmere, centre half)
Ref rating: Wayne Barratt (6/10)
Tranmere (4-4-2): Davies; Duggan, McNulty, Sutton, Ridehalgh; Kirby (Stephenson 71), Harris, Almond (Tollitt 55), Osborne; Jones, Cook
Subs not used: Turner, Vaughan, Gumbs
Gateshead (5-3-2): Hanford, Brundle, Hogan, M Smith, Fyfield, G Smith (Mafuta 44); Jones, Penn, McLaughlin; York, Bell (Styche 70)
Subs not used: Johnson, Wrightson, Hannant.