Tranmere Rovers 2 Chester 2
A DRAMATIC injury-time equaliser denied ten-man Tranmere a fifth straight league victory as Chester game from behind in a pulsating derby at Prenton Park.
Andy Cook and Ben Tollitt gave Rovers a two goal first-half cushion but Tom Shaw pulled one back for the visitors after the break before Tollitt was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Rovers looked to have whethered the storm as the game headed into injury time but as full time approached, defender Ryan Astles volleyed home sending the 1000+ away supporters wild with delight.
Andy Cook celebrates his opening goal for Tranmere Rovers against Chester
Micky Mellon handed a second home debut to Andy Mangan after the striker re-joined Rovers from Shrewsbury Town.
Fellow reacquisition Adam Dawson had to settle for a place on the bench.
Tollitt provided the first flash of excitement in the third minute – skipping past Blaine Hudson before firing the ball across the penalty area.
Andy Cook nearly gave Tranmere the lead from a corner moments later but Elliot Durrell nodded his header over the crossbar.
Mangan got his first sighter on seven minutes – cutting inside before volleying over from 20 yards.
A cross from Jake Kirby broke in the box for Tollitt but his shot was blocked on the line before Mangan fired over moments later.
The Seals had adopted a physical approach early doors but it was Tranmere's Tollitt and Jay Harris who picked up the first yellow cards of the match inside 30 minutes.
Tranmere players celebrate after Ben Tollitt scored their second goal against Chester
Tranmere took the lead just before the half hour mark when the visitors failed to deal with a ball into the box and allowed Cook to chest down before guiding home his 11th goal of the season.
The home crowd celebrated with vigour as blue and white pyro smoke erupted in the paddock town end.
Rovers' lead was extended five minutes later when referee Thomas Bramall ignored a possible foul and handball in the build up before Tollitt collected the ball on the left side of the box and arrowed home, sending three sides of Prenton Park delirious.
Chester were on the ropes and Tollitt looked to add a third soon after, but his curling 25-yarder sailed just over.
The visitors were beginning to lose their discipline and after a dangerous challenge on Harris went unpunished Astles picked up a caution for flooring the same player in an aerial duel.
A mistake by Mangan allowed Chester to break two minutes before the interval and when Craig Mahon slipped Kane Richards in his fierce shot beat Scott Davies but rattled the underside of the crossbar and bounced out – a warning for Rovers that the game was not yet won.
After the break it was the visitors who started the brighter. Durrell fizzed a ball across the penalty area, narrowly evaded the outstretched James Alabi.
Ben Tollitt is given a red card for a second booking
But on 50 minutes the lead was halved when Tom Shaw rose brilliantly to head home a cross from Durrell.
That goal brought Chester back to life. A free kick from Durrell found Shaw again, unmarked at the far post, but this time his header landed in the clutches of Davies.
Tranmere had lost their way and when Steve McNulty and Ritchie Sutton failed to deal with a routine high ball, Shaw was clean through on goal, only to be denied by the onrushing Davies.
Action was aplenty and a Tranmere breakaway ended with Blues ‘keeper Alex Lynch saving from Kirby at close range before the ball was hacked clear.
Rovers upped the pressure with Cook going close twice as the hosts forced a succession of corners.
With 25 minutes to play Tollitt danced into the area and went down looking for a penalty.
Instead he was shown a second yellow card for simulation and was dismissed.
The youngster looked dejected as he trudged off leaving his side down to 10 men.
It forced Mellon into a defensive switch, bringing on Michael Ihiekwe for Mangan.
Tranmere tried to take the heat out of the closing 20 minutes by retaining possession better and keeping their resurgent opponents at arm’s length.
A shot from distance by Durrell sailed harmlessly into the Cowsheds with quarter of an hour to go before the unflappable Davies held a cross from Richards.
Astles then put a header from a corner over the bar before Davies picked up a booking for timewasting from the restart.
Chester should have been level on 77 minutes when Mahon found Ryan Lloyd on the edge of the box, but with the goal at his mercy he fired over the bar.
Adam Mekki was introduced late on for Kirby to provide an outlet as Tranmere looked to see the game out.
As the board went up for five minutes of injury time, Davies gathered a low shot from Shaw at the second attempt but in the 93rd minute disaster struck for Rovers when a short cross fell for Astles who shanked a volley into the corner of the net sparking chaotic scenes in the cowsheds behind the goal.
It was just rewards for Chester’s determination but hard luck on Rovers, in what was a brilliant match played out in front of a season’s best crowd of 7,790.
Rovers manager Micky Mellon said afterwards:"We had a man sent off and I’ve just said to the lads, we’ve got to get the mentality right. It’s eight v eight in our half, because they’ve still got two centre halves back.
"In terms of running and working really hard, we couldn’t say that we never, but what we would have to say is did we really work smartly enough? That’s what we’ll need to get better at, but they gave us everything that they had.
"As the manager I've got to take responsibility for the result and the team not starting the second half well enough. We're disappointed with that.
"It’s something we’ve just spoken about. You can’t do that.
"You’ve got to come out on the front foot and realise that the team who are 2-0 down are going to try and make some sort of impact in the game. You’ve got to go and match that and be a bit more streetwise.
"I thought we’d seen it through.
"For 35 minutes they’ve run their socks off and to see it go in, in the very last minute is obviously very disappointing for us. I feel for everybody. I feel for the fans, but this is football."
Tranmere Rovers 2
Cook 29, Tollitt 34
Chester 2 Shaw 50, Astles 90+3
Half time: 2-0 Star man: Scott Davies (Tranmere goalkeeper)
Attendance: 7,790 Entertainment: 5/5
Ref rating: Thomas Bramall (6/10)
Tranmere (4-4-2): Davies 9; Vaughan 8, Sutton 7, McNulty 7, Ridehalgh 6, Kirby 7 (Mekki 84, 6), Harris 6, Hughes 7, Tollitt 6, Mangan 6 (Ihiekwe 68), Cook 7
Subs not used: Turner, Stephenson, Dawson
Chester (4-4-2): Lynch 8, Hughes 7, Astles 8, Hudson 7, Hunt 6, Durrell 8, Shaw 8, Lloyd 6, Mahon 7, Richards 6, Alabi 6
Subs not used: Evans, Marsh, Joyce, Chappell, Horwood
Rovers' National League continues next Saturday, November 19, against Braintree Town at the IronmongeryDirect Stadium