Tranmere Rovers 2 Bromley 2
A CONTROVERSIAL sending off altered the course of Tranmere's afternoon, as what looked like a comfortable victory turned into a stomach-churning draw against plucky Bromley at Prenton Park.
Andy Cook had given the Whites a two-goal cushion by half time, in an opening 45 minutes that could have ended 5-0 to the hosts.
But the dismissal of Adam Buxton after the break changed the game and goals from Brandon Hanlon and Jack Holland late on earned the Ravens the most unlikely of draws.
Jack Dunn was handed a first start and Ben Tollitt returned to the starting line-up, supporting strikers Cook and James Norwood.
Having impressed midweek, Buxton retained his place in the side but switched to right back at the expense of Lee Vaughan, allowing Liam Ridehalgh to return in his usual left back position.
Tranmere took the lead when Tollitt outfoxed Alan Dunne before crossing for Cook to head home from close range.
The lead was doubled on the quarter of an hour mark, when Norwood saw his header from Hughes’ free kick saved by Alan Julian but Cook was on hand to tap in the rebound for his 15th – and easiest – goal of the season.
Mellon's men looked rejuvenated and shortly before the half hour mark Cook and Norwood combined beautifully to put the latter clean through, but without a goal since December 3, he hesitated and eventually saw his effort cleared off the line.
That allowed the visitors to break and having failed to clear the danger, Davies was thankful when Blair Turgott could only find the side netting.
Cook had the ball in the net again just before the interval but was adjudged to have fouled the overworked Julian in the process.
Linking effortlessly with Norwood again, he was only denied a first half hat trick when a Bromley defender nicked the ball off his toe as he went to pull the trigger.
The expectation was that Rovers would go on to rack up a cricket score, but three minutes before the hour mark, the game's controversial moment arrived when Buxton received a straight red for a challenge on Joe Anderson.
The decision appeared harsh on the defender and television replays later confirmed that it was a poor decision.
James Wallace then hobbled off – replaced by Jake Kirby – as Rovers looked to knuckle down for the final half hour.
With renewed vigour, Bromley halved the deficit with 25 minutes to play when George Porter crossed for Brandon Hanlan to poke home from two yards.
Porter – who was revelling in the role of pantomime villain – goaded the Kop as his teammates celebrated.
Outraged by the apparent injustice Tranmere's supporters rose to their feet on mass and roared their team on in collective show of force.
That was only intensified as Rovers were denied a stonewall penalty when Tollitt was cynically pulled down in box, convincing everyone but the referee of foul play.
Tranmere dug in, but with just three minutes remaining disaster struck as Bromley broke the resistance when Blair Turgott crossed for captain Holland, who slammed the ball home and wheeled away in delight.
The bitterly disappointing result saw Rovers lose some ground on their promotion rivals but with so many positives to take out of the first half performance they must now dust themselves down for the trip to Eastleigh next Saturday.
Micky Mellon said: "We've very frustrated, because I think anyone who was here would say that in the first half we could've really been out of sight with the amount of clear cut chances that we had.
"The sending off changes everything but it's still eight v eight on our half. We’ve got to do better at times, probably be a wee bit more aggressive in that situation.
"But they ran their socks off and an awful lot of stuff went against them that never gave us they wee lift that we maybe needed to keep us going.
"To be with 10 men for that amount of time takes a lot of digging in and we're obviously devastated to lose the goals when we did."
Tranmere Rovers 2 (Cook 9, 15) Bromley 2 (Hanlan 65, Holland 87)
Half time: 2-0
Star man: Andy Cook (Tranmere striker)
Ref rating: Karl Evans 4/10
Tranmere (4-4-2): Davies 6; Buxton 7, Ihiekwe 8, McNulty 5 (Maynard 33, 6), Ridehalgh 7; Dunn 7 (Mangan 77, 6), Wallace 6 (Kirby 60, 6), Hughes 7, Tollitt 7; Cook 9, Norwood 8.
Subs not used: Turner, Mangan, Stockton Bromley (4-4-2): Julian 7; Dunne 5, Chorley 5, Holland 5, Anderson 6; Turgott 7, Minshull 6, Dymond 6, Martin 5 (Higgs 46, 6); Porter 7 (Goldberg 82, 7), Hanlan 8 Subs not used: Johnson, Wynter, Stanic-Stewart