Tranmere Rovers 1, Northampton Town 2

OUT-of-form Tranmere slumped to a third successive defeat after they were surprisingly beaten 2-1 by Northampton Town at Prenton Park.

The Cobblers led after less than two minutes thanks to Sam Hoskins' clinical strike but they were pegged back midway through the second half when James Norwood netted his 19th league goal of the season.

But deep in first half injury-time Hoskins struck again and Northampton held firm after the break, meaning Rovers missed the opportunity to gain ground on the playoff pack.

After subscribing to a very busy January transfer window, Micky Mellon made four changes to the side that lost at Mansfield Town, handing full debuts to three new players.

Switching to a 4-2-3-1 formation, Millwall loanee Sid Nelson came in at centre back for captain Steve McNulty, who is currently hampered by an Achilles problem.

With Ollie Banks suspended, Luke McCullough returned to the line-up, flanked by new attacking midfielders Ben Pringle and Kieron Morris.

Fans were keen to see their new recruits in action, but it was the visitors who took the lead inside two minutes, when Hoskins showed a ponderous Tranmere defensive line a clean pair of heels, before clinically stroking the ball beyond Scott Davies.

Rovers responded 10 minutes later, when Norwood broke free of his marker Ash Taylor, but the covering Charlie Goode blocked the Tranmere striker’s shot.

The hosts worked diligently to try and carve out an equaliser but it was the Cobblers’ Joe Powell who would try his luck next on 20 minutes, firing wide from the edge of the box.

A mistake by Manny Monthe presented a long-range shooting opportunity to David Buchanan, and his low drive cannoned off the giant Tranmere defender before being saved by the legs of Davies.

But moments later Rovers pulled level, when Connor Jennings fed Jake Caprice down the right wing and his fierce low cross was expertly turned in by Norwood.

The prolific marksman quickly went in search of another.

First a 25-yard drive was turned around the post by a diving David Cornell and from the subsequent Pringle corner, Norwood headed the ball into the ground, forcing it to bounce just over the crossbar.

Another mistake by Monthe presented a gift to Hoskins in the Rovers penalty area, but his first touch was poor and again the colossal Rovers centre-back was able to get away with it.

Tranmere would have been reasonably happy to have gone in at the break all square but deep in first half injury time the Cobblers unexpectedly retook the lead.

A hopeful deep ball from left back Buchanan was speculatively flicked goalwards by Hoskins and he was rewarded for his endeavour as the ball looped over Davies into the net. A goal out of nothing.

Narked by falling behind again, Rovers quickly went in search of a second equaliser after the break, with an inviting cross from Liam Ridehalgh glanced inches off-target by Norwood.

Just before the hour mark Mellon made a change, hooking Ben Pringle for Chris Dagnall, who was making the maiden appearance in his second spell at the club.

Chances were at a premium but when Norwood had a decent opportunity with a freekick on the edge of the Dee, he could only curl it harmlessly wide.

With 19 minutes remaining Johnny Smith came on for Morris and got straight in the thick of the action, cutting inside and forcing a corner out of Cornell with a low drive.

A measured cross from Jennings was met by the head of Dagnall but he was just off target.

Jennings then shot straight at Cornell as the hosts continued to push for an equaliser.

Deep in injury time Norwood got one more opportunity but he rushed his chance and could only shank it wide off his shin.

It’s three defeats on the spin now for Rovers, whose playoff aspirations appear to be fizzling out just when they needed to ignite.

Mick Mellon said afterwards: "We're very frustrated. You'd have to say that we’ve lost goals at the worst possible times in order to try and get any way into any rhythm or routine in our performance.

"That has a massive factor in the way the game was played. We kept trying to pass it.

"There are loads of things that I could say that we could’ve been better at, but giving away an early goal changes the mentality and everyone wants to force it.

"It would've taken that wee bit of quality in vital areas or a wee bit of magic and imagination to try and open up a whole body of defensive players on their 18-yard box.

"We lose the goal when we do, just before half-time which obviously is the worst possible time to lose it, if you’re getting back into it again. If think that was pretty much the story of the game."

Match stats

Tranmere Rovers 1 (Norwood 24), Northampton Town 2 (Hoskins 2, 45+2)

Half time: 1-2

Referee: Paul Marsden

Attendance: 5,098

Star man: David Perkins (Tranmere midfielder)

Match rating: 2/5

Tranmere (4-2-3-1): Davies, Caprice, Nelson, Monthe, Ridehalgh, Morris (Smith 71), Perkins, McCullough (Gilmour 86), Pringle (Dagnall 59), Jennings, Norwood

Tranmere subs: Pilling, Buxton, Harris, Mullin

Northampton (4-4-2): Cornell, Facey, Buchanan, Goode, Taylor, Hoskins (Powell 79), Powell (O’Toole 58), Pierce, McWilliams (Morias 85), Turnbull, Bridge

Northampton subs: Coddington, Williams, Elsnik, Roberts