A dramatic stoppage time goal from Stefan Payne rescued a draw for Tranmere, as they picked up their first away point of the season against Rotherham United.

Ben Wiles gave the Millers the lead with barely quarter of an hour left to play, but Rovers fought hard for an equaliser and were finally rewarded when Payne struck his second goal of the season at the death, with what felt more like a winner than a leveller.

With a mixture of injuries and suspensions to deal with, Micky Mellon made four changes to the side that lost at Bristol Rovers last time out.

In came Paul Mullin and Payne for Morgan Ferrier – who could be out for eight weeks – and Corey Blackett-Taylor respectively. 

Opting for three at the back, there was room in defence for Sid Nelson whilst Darren Potter replaced the suspended Ollie Banks in midfield.

The first chance of note fell to United in the ninth minute when Clark Robertson headed a Michael Smith cross into the arms of Scott Davies.

The hosts hit a snag 12 minutes in, when Kyle Vassell could no longer continue and was replaced by Chiedozie Ogbene.

Freddie Ladapo tried to catch Davies off guard from the edge of the box but only succeeded in troubling the stewards in the stand behind the goal.

When Kieron Morris cut inside and drilled one at goal, Rotherham ‘keeper Daniel Iversen had to gather it at the second attempt.

A quick free kick on the half way line put Mullin in on goal and although his shot was saved by Iversen, the referee pulled the free kick back to be retaken regardless.

The Millers were enjoying the majority of possession, forcing Rovers back to the edge of their own penalty area, but failed to back up their attacking intent with potent firepower in the opening period.

Livewire Morris wanted a penalty five minutes before the break, when his cross appeared to be handled in the box, but the referee waved the appeals away.

Just prior to half time, a shanked effort from Wiles wrong footed Davies and the Tranmere stopper was relieved to see the ball come back off his post.

Tranmere found their attacking intent – and their voice – ten minutes into the second half. A duo of corners was interspersed by a shot on the turn from Mullin, that Iversen could only parry behind.

Substitute Ogbene was clearly no slouch and when he scampered down the left and crossed into the box, the ball reached Matt Crooks via the head of David Perkins, but the former could only side-foot it over the bar.

Rovers had a good opportunity just past the hour mark, when a clever flick from Mullin released Connor Jennings in the box, but an elaborate effort with the outside of his boot went well wide, with his left foot the better option.

United eventually took the lead 17 minutes from time, when a tiring Rovers defence failed to react quick enough to a loose ball in the box, allowing Wiles to turn and shoot high into the net.

Mellon quickly brought on Rushian Hepburn-Murphy for Mullin, in search of an equaliser. 

Tranmere responded. When Potter’s deflected shot spun across the box, Payne went for a diving header three yards out that he missed by inches. It would have been a certain goal had he connected. 

From the resultant corner, Payne was denied again, this time by a goal line clearance.

As the Millers looked to put the game to bed, Crooks whistled one over the bar with Davies beaten, before the Tranmere captain denied Ladapo when he was clean through on goal.

But Rovers weren’t done. Mellon brought on Calum Woods in the 90thminute for Nelson in a search for greater width.

As the game ticked into the fifth minute of stoppage time serious drama unfolded and Tranmere got their reward for never giving up.

Morris just about managed to keep the ball in on the bi-line before crossing into the box, where a shot from Hepburn-Murphy hit the back of Payne then the head of Manny Monthe before finally coming back to Payne, who swept it into the net from close range.

The goal sparked wild scenes of delight both on and off the field, as supporters invaded the perimeter of the pitch and beyond.

The result was a deserved point for Tranmere, who had defended professionally against a strong Rotherham side and showed the type of never-say-die spirit that has underpinned Mellon’s managerial reign.

Tranmere boss Micky Mellon: 

“We thoroughly deserved our point today. It didn’t really matter when it came, it was just important that we got just rewards for a really good performance from all the boys.

“They did everything that we asked them to do today. Many times I’ve stood here saying we wanted a wee bit more but they gave us everything that they had today. Left nothing on the pitch and kept fighting for a fantastic support.

“That was magnificent support that roared us on and I’m delighted that we gave them something to cheer about at the end.

“I was really pleased with the performance. I have to be patient. I know that, but today set a really good benchmark for everyone who came to see us today. We’re prepared to fight at the tempo that League One football’s asking of you.”

Match Stats

Rotherham United 1

Wiles 73

Tranmere Rovers 1

Payne 90+5

Half time: 0-0

Referee: A. Haines

Attendance: 8,691 (982 away)

Star man: Kieron Morris (Tranmere midfielder)

Match rating: 2/5

Rotherham team (4-3-3): Iversen, Wood, Vassell (Ogbene 12), Wiles, Ladapo (Mattock 89), Barlaser (Lindsay 45), Robertson, Crooks, Ihiekwe, Olosunde, Smith 

Rotherham subs: Bilboe, MacDonald, Thompson, Cooper

Tranmere team (3-4-3): Davies, Nelson (Woods 90), Ray, Monthe, Morris, Potter, Perkins, Ridehalgh, Jennings, Mullin (Hepburn-Murphy 75), Payne

Tranmere subs: Pilling, Ponticelli, Gilmour, Maddox, Walker-Rice