Crewe Alexandra 3, Tranmere Rovers 2 

JAMES Norwood’s 13th goal of the season wasn't enough for Tranmere, who deservedly lost at Crewe and slipped to seventh in League Two.

Callum Ainley struck either side of halftime before setting up Charlie Kirk for a volleyed third.

Substitute Paul Mullin pulled one back late on for Tranmere but it was too little too late, as the hosts humbled fancied Rovers and provided a promotion reality check.

Proving that you are only as good as your last game, Micky Mellon made three changes to the side that was held to a draw last Saturday by non-league Oxford City.

Adam Buxton, Mullin and Larnell Cole were all ditched in favour of Zoumana Bakayogo, Johnny Smith and Harvey Gilmour respectively.

The travelling Super White Army had sold out their near-1700 ticket allocation, once again providing superb support on the road.

Connor Jennings had the first chance of the match for Rovers, stabbing the ball into the gloves of Ben Garratt from the edge of the box.

A wicked ball into the box from Ollie Banks had to be heroically headed off the line by Ryan Wintle, as Tranmere went on the front foot.

The Alex responded when Ainley twisted to work space for a low shot in the box, forcing Scott Davies to save low to his left.

And they took the lead on 20 minutes when Ainley collected the ball on the edge of the Dee and curled it into the bottom left corner, with Davies left rooted to his line.

The Whites responded immediately with Garrett getting down to his right to deny Banks from 25 yards.

A speculative 35-yarder from Perry Ng almost caught Davies out again who had to scramble to his right, desperately flicking the ball around the post.

Rovers were struggling to impose their usual dominance in midfield but nine minutes before the break they found a way back in via their prolific marksman.

A straight ball through the middle found Norwood, who was given too much space by the Crewe defence, allowing him to cut onto his right and fire low past Garrett into the net.

Norwood nearly grabbed a second for the afternoon in first half injury time, driving into the heart of the Crewe defence before toe-poking just wide from the edge of the box.

But just five minutes into the second half the Railwaymen retook the lead when a neat one-two on the edge of the penalty area put Ainley in behind the Rovers defence who drove the ball low past Davies.

Tranmere responded again. Gilmour blazed one over before a long range blast from Banks was deflected over for a corner.

Mellon introduced Cole on the hour mark, replacing Gilmour, in search of a creative spark in midfield.

But with 25 minutes remaining the hosts extended the lead when Ainley was allowed to turn and cross to the back post, where Kirk arrived unmarked to volley past Davies.

Rovers brought on Mullin for Smith, with the substitute unable to turn a Luke McCullough flick-on in on the goal line moments later.

Eight minutes from time the visitors pulled one back when – on the goal line – Mullin headed home a driven cross from Banks, after Norwood had initially hit the post.

Bakayogo attempted an outrageous 40-yard effort deep in injury time, but it was wild and wide. Rovers will have to take this one on the chin.

Manager Micky Mellon said: "We shouldn't have to score three goals to get a draw and score four to try and win a game, it makes it very difficult because to try and achieve that we know is going to be very hard.

"There's bits in all the goals that we’ll go through next week but I think the bottom line is you can't expect to give away three goals home or away and expect to pick up any points.

"They kept battling and kept getting back in it. If you;d said to me before the game that we’d score two I'd think we had every chance of getting something out of that.

"You can comb over the goals and pinpoint things but you've got to be more stubborn.

"You can't give goals away like we are giving away at the moment. That's the problem. You've got to be more resilient and see things through.

"We just made some poor decisions at times and allowed ourselves to be exposed."

Match stats:

Crewe Alexandra 3 (Ainley 20, 50 Kirk 67)

Tranmere Rovers 2 (Norwood 36, Mullin 83)

HT: 1-1

Referee: Carl Boyeson

Attendance: 5,154

Match rating: 4/5

Star man: James Norwood (Tranmere striker)

Crewe: Garrett, Ng, Pickering, Jones, Miller (Porter 85), Bowery, Ainley (Nicholls 76), Nolan, Wintle, Kirk, Whelan Subs not used: Richards, Raynes, Finney, Hunt, O’Connor

Tranmere: Davies, Caprice, McNulty, Monthe, Bakayogo, Banks, McCullough, Smith (Mullin 73), Gilmour (Cole 60), Jennings, Norwood Subs not used: George, Buxton, Sutton, Mottley-Henry