Tranmere Rovers 1 Macclesfield Town 0

A LATE Christmas present from Jeff Hughes and an unexpected one from Yorkshire ensured that Tranmere start 2017 top of the National League after overcoming Macclesfield at Prenton Park.

A crowd of 7,274 witnessed Hughes head past goalkeeper Craig Ross and a desperate defender with seven minutes to play and as Rovers saw out the victory, rivals Lincoln conceded late on at Guiseley ensuring that the whites bounce straight back to the top of the table.

Micky Mellon made two changes to the side that lost against table-toppers Lincoln, leaving out Jay Harris and Lois Maynard in favour of Jake Kirby and James Wallace, who was making his first start since returning to Prenton Park on loan from Sheffield United.

Ben Tollitt made a lively start to the match and stung the palms of Ross before firing another effort from distance over the bar a few minutes later.

The former Portsmouth winger then took a tumble in the box, but referee Steven Rushton waived his penalty claims away.

Danny Whitaker stole a march on Lee Vaughan at the far post but could only direct his header over the crossbar, as the visitors fashioned their first chance.

A loose ball from Wallace allowed Macclesfield to break and Scott Davies was forced to punch a fierce shot away from Dave Fitzpatrick.

Mangan then found Tollitt on the edge of the box, who cut inside but could only fire over the bar from 12 yards.

Mangan then saw a drilled effort pushed around the post by Ross as Rovers continued their assault on the visitors' goal.

Despite bossing the ball for most of the first period, Rovers' goal threat weakened as the half wore on, with Tollitt smashing another effort into the Cowsheds on the stroke of half time.

A succession of fouls and misplaced passes then made for an eventless opening to the second half as neither team showed the quality required to make a breakthrough.

Disaster almost struck for Rovers in the 64th minute however, when Lee Vaughan tried to be too clever in his own penalty area and had his pocket picked by Danny Rowe, but too the relief of the home crowd he somehow conspired to put a golden opportunity wide of the goal.

Hughes had a chance on the turn from close range, but Macclesfield defender George Pilkington heroically blocked it off.

Kingsley James then got away from Steve McNulty before firing a shot on goal for the visitors, but it was held by Davies.

With quarter of an hour to go Rovers regained their composure and started to force Town further back.

And with six minutes to play the visitors' resolve was broken when a corner from Liam Ridehalgh was met by Hughes who nodded past goalkeeper Ross before a desperate defender could only push the ball further into the net.

The goal was far from pretty but Tranmere’s elated supporters cared little as the Whites held on and collected all three points and with Lincoln’s unexpected defeat, Rovers are in pole position and primed for a promotion push in the New Year.

Micky Mellon said: "I thought we played some terrific football at times.

"What there needs to be is an end to that sometimes, be clinical and make the goalkeeper work but some of the lead up play to that was terrific.

"Macclesfield to their credit made it very very difficult for us.

"They never much moved out of their shape throughout the whole game and to be fair to them, they sometimes looked like a bit of a threat on the counter attack.

"But we believed if we kept on going and kept pegging away that something would break for us and we’re very grateful that it did.”

"We all know the quality that Liam (Ridehalgh) possess when he puts in a ball at pace and it was nice to see us being a bit aggressive in trying to get on the end of that.

"I was just delighted to see it go in.

"What's important for everyone to understand is that there’s many ways of playing well and winning a game of football and the questions to you get asked all of the time – you've just got to prepared to answer them.

“Yes there are things that we want to get better at.

"We want to keep improving all the time but one thing that wasn't lacking today was that desire to go and win a massive three points for our fantastic crowd at Christmas time."

Match stats

Tranmere Rovers 1 Hughes 83 Macclesfield Town 0

Half time: 0-0

Star man: James Wallace (Tranmere Centre midfield).

Attendance: 7,274

Entertainment: 3/5

Ref rating: Steven Rushton (7/10)

Tranmere (4-4-2): Davies 7; Vaughan 6, Sutton 7, McNulty 6, Ridehalgh 7; Kirby 6 (C Jennings 65, 5), Hughes 7, Wallace 8, Tollitt 7; Norwood 6, Mangan 6 (Maynard 90, NA).

Subs not used: Turner, S Jennings, Ihiekwe Macclesfield (4-4-2): Ross 7; Halls 6, Pilkington 7, McCombe 7, Fitzpatrick 6; Rowe 6, James 7 (Wellens 90, NA), Whitaker 8, Hancock 6; Holroyd 5 (Lewis 81, 6), Brodie 6.

Subs not used: Byrne, Sampson, Boot