A dramatic injury time goal from James Norwood sent Tranmere back to the top of the National League as stubborn York City were eventually overcome at Prenton Park.
With neither pacesetters Lincoln City or Forest Green Rovers in action, Rovers only had to win to top the table by Saturday evening.
But they looked to be heading for a frustrating draw - until Norwood’s last-gasp header secured all three points.
Micky Mellon made two changes to the side that won at Gateshead midweek – bringing Norwood in for Andy Cook and fit-again Lee Vaughan returned at right-back, moving Michael Ihiekwe over to the left fullback position.
The reshuffle allowed Jeff Hughes to move back into midfield, whilst recent loan signing James Wallace had to again be content with a place on the bench.
Unfortunately for the fans of both sides the opening quarter of an hour was something of a non-event.
Only a close range Scott Davies save from York’s Jon Parkin – who was offside anyway – provided any incident of note.
The visitors were neat and tidy and a knockdown from Parkin for Rhys Murphy forced Davies into a meaningful save on 21 minutes.
Rovers responded with a set piece at the other end, which Norwood headed goal bound, but it was punched away by Kyle Letheren.
Norwood tried his luck again from 25 yards minutes later but his strike was defused with a deflection, making it easy for the ‘keeper.
Harris then slipped in Ihiekwe, who’s shot was saved by Letheren before the flag was raised for offside.
Rovers were starting to get on top and when Hughes floated in an inviting corner Ritchie Sutton should have done better than glancing his header wide from six yards.
Lois Maynard was forced off with an injury just past the half hour mark and was replaced by Jake Kirby.
A wide free kick from Ben Tollitt was sent deep to Ihiekwe at the far post but Letheren collected his header back across goal.
Fans’ favourite Tollitt went to ground in the penalty area in first half injury time, but just like in his last two outings at Prenton Park, the referee waved his claims away.
The on-loan Portsmouth star still had time to cut inside and try another effort from long range but his right-footed effort was well off target.
The first chance of the second period fell to the Minstermen, with Sean Newton seizing on a loose ball from Steve McNulty to whip a 30-yard shot just wide of the goal.
An injury to Rhys Murphy eventually saw him stretchered off after a long delay and when the game restarted Davies had to be at his best to tip an audacious effort from Parkin over the bar.
A clever knockdown from the York debutant teed up ex-Rovers player Danny Holmes but he fluffed his lines from the edge of the box to the relief of the Kop.
Tranmere desperately needed a change and when Cook was introduced for Andy Mangan with 25 minutes to go his impact was instant, forcing a goal line save out of Letheren with a header from Hughes’ dead ball.
Vaughan then arrowed a 30-yard effort just wide as Rovers went in search of the win.
Substitute Robbie McDaid cut inside for York and found Parkin but he could only sky his effort into the Kop, in keeping with the afternoon’s proceedings.
The efforts on goal became progressively desperate from the hosts. Tollitt cut in from the right to fire a left foot effort wide before Norwood wasted his time with a fanciful 45-yard attempt.
Tollitt then sent another one over the bar with the expectant home crowd growing more discontent with every failed attack.
Tramere wouldn’t give up though and kept knocking on the door. A shot from Cook was blocked before Vaughan overran the rebound.
Adam Dawson came on for Jay Harris with five minutes of injury time to play but with Rovers seemingly heading for a draw Vaughan delivered a cross into the box and Norwood was quickest to it, heading down into the net and sending Prenton Park delirious.
It was a hard-fought victory for Rovers who will take a break from league action next weekend with an FA Trophy clash at Wrexham, before locking horns with promotion rivals Lincoln the following Saturday.
Mellon said: “I’m really pleased with the players - they kept trying to do the right things and be good in that block when we played from the back.
“I’ve got to give the fans every credit because I think they understand what we’re trying to do – creating that control from the back so we can get good players higher up the pitch and get the ball into them with quality.
“Tranmere fans are very educated because they’ve seen some very good footballers here over the years. They were great with the team and kept going with us right until the very end.
“We always knew it was going to take one wee bit of quality into the box and for someone to get onto the end of it.
"It was fantastic to see the ball in the back of the net.”
Tranmere Rovers 1 Norwood 90+3
York City 0
Half time: 0-0
Star man: James Norwood (Tranmere Centre Forward)
Ref rating: Wayne Barratt (7/10)
Tranmere (4-4-2): Davies player rating 7; Vaughan 7, Sutton 7, McNulty 7, Ihiekwe 6, Tollitt 5, Maynard 5 (Kirby 32, 5), Harris 6 (Dawson 90, N/A), Hughes 6, Mangan 6 (Cook 65, 7), Norwood 7
Subs not used: Turner, Wallace
York City (3-5-2): Letheren player rating 7, Rooney 7, Klukowski 7, Fry 7, Heslop 6, Newton 6, Moke 6, Holmes 7, Whittle 7, Parkin 7, Murphy 6 (McDaid 58, 6)
Subs not used: Connolly, Dixon, Woodland, Rzonca,