Tranmere Rovers 1 Chelmsford City 1
TRANMERE came from behind to earn a replay in the FA Trophy third-round as they were held by lowly Chelmsford City at Prenton Park.
A first-half strike from Robbie Willmott was cancelled out by substitute Cole Stockton, but there was to be no winner and the two teams will have to do it all over again on Wednesday night in Essex.
Micky Mellon selected an unchanged side from the one that picked up a 3-0 victory at Woking midweek, but there was a place on the bench for Jack Dunn, who has joined on loan from Liverpool until the end of the season.
The first chance of the match fell to the Clarets in the fourth minute when Chris Dickson struck a dipping volley over the bar from 20 yards.
Quarter of an hour passed before Rovers created their first opportunity of note, when James Norwood collected a smart first time ball from James Wallace and squared for Ben Tollitt, but Ross Fitzsimons in the Chelmsford goal palmed his side footed effort away.
At the other end, Scott Davies had to be alert when a cross from Robbie Willmott was diverted towards his own goal by Jeff Hughes.
A header from Cook was blocked by the visitors' defence before his follow up effort produced the same result, as Rovers struggled to prize open their opponents' rear guard.
On the half hour mark Chelsmford took the lead when Tranmere were too slow to clear their lines and Willmott picked the ball up on the edge of the box and feinted past Wallace before arrowing the ball into the bottom corner beyond Davies.
Rovers responded with a tame shot from Norwood but the visitors were in no mood to sit back.
Centre back Chris Bush showed the quick feet of a winger before whistling a shot just wide as the Clarets tried to double their advantage.
Chelmsford’s steely approach occasionally went too far and Bush went into the book just before the break for a late tackle of Lee Vaughan.
From the resultant dead ball, Michael Ihiekwe headed Hughes' cross over the bar, as the search for an equaliser continued.
With little to show for the first 45 minutes, Mellon made a change at half time, handing Dunn his debut in place of Lois Maynard.
Rovers re-emerged on the front foot, with Norwood firing over from 25 yards six minutes after the restart.
In the 56th minute a controversial moment arrived when Bush pushed Tollitt in the throat and in doing so sent him into a nasty looking collision with the disabled supporters’’ shelter.
To the home crowd's dismay the Chelmsford defender escaped with nothing more than a ticking off.
Tranmere continued to press but couldn't make the breakthrough against a determined Chelmsford defence.
Just past the hour mark Mellon made a double substitution, bringing on strikers Cole Stockton and Andy Mangan for Lee Vaughan and Andy Cook respectively.
As series of consecutive efforts were blocked by City, who were by now sitting deep against a Tranmere team boasting four strikers and attacking midfielder Tollitt.
With 20 minutes to play they finally made that attacking force pay when Stockton collected the ball in the penalty area, turned and smashed home the equaliser.
With the prospect of an unwanted replay on the horizon, Rovers sprung to lift and upped their tempo, attacking in waves.
Dunn came close to marking his maiden appearance in a sensational manner with quarter of an hour to go – striking a beautiful volley on the turn just over the crossbar.
A mix up between Steve McNulty and Davies almost handed Chelmsford an unlikely winner, but the Rovers' goalkeeper recovered to deny Shaun Jeffers and spare the 'keeper's blushes.
Mangan blasted one over the bar before Norwood saw a fierce left foot effort tipped over, as Rovers continued to search for a late winner.
But try as they might and despite a penalty appeal for handball at the death, they could not find the net and it is hard to argue that Chelmsford weren't deserving of a replay for their committed efforts.
Rovers' boss Mellon said afterwards: "We're still in the hat. There’s a lot of things that we know that we didn't do as well as we can.
"Probably the only positive is that we're still in the hat and we get another bite of the cherry.
"I think that they sat in a good shape with a back three and people in front and made it very difficult for us to get through them.
"I think the disappointing thing is probably in the final third we weren't good enough with the ball and gave the ball away too cheaply.
"We lacked a wee bit of imagination. To be fair when we changed it second half the lads started to get at them down the sides a little bit a cause them problems, but then again we let ourselves down with that final pass or that wee bit of quality or movement too many times."
Tranmere Rovers: 1 (Stockton 69)
Chelmsford City: 1 (Willmott 29)
Half time: 0-1
Star man: Cole Stockton (Tranmere striker)
Ref rating: Martin Coy (5/10) Tranmere (4-3-3): Davies 5; Vaughan 5 (Stockton 62, 7), Ihiekwe 5, McNulty 7, Ridehalgh 5; Wallace 5, Hughes 6, Maynard 6 (Dunn 46, 6); Tollitt 7, Cook 5 (Mangan 62, 5), Norwood 6.
Subs not used: Turner, Harris Dagenham (3-5-2): Fitzsimons 7; Miller 6, Haines 6 (Cornhill 34, 6), Bush 7; Willmott 7, Porter 6, Church 6, Rees 6, Graham 6; Jeffers 6, Dickson 6 (Daley 77, 6).
Subs not used: Buchanan, Blanchett, Roberts
Shots on: 6
Shots off: 5
Shots on: 1
Shots off: 2
Yellows: 0 R