Below-par Tranmere limped into the second round of the Trophy after they were humbled by League Two Salford at Prenton Park.

Rovers’ progression in the competition was already assured – as was Salford’s – but it was the visitors who prevailed, in what was effectively a dead rubber.

Oscar Threlkeld gave City an early lead before ex-White Liam Hogan secured all three points for Graham Alexander’s side, in what was a drab showing by the hosts.

With Tranmere’s path to the next round already guaranteed, Micky Mellon made eight changes to the side that drew with Wycombe in the FA Cup at the weekend.

Goalkeeper Luke Pilling was handed only his second start of the season, with George Ray, Darren Potter, Morgan Ferrier, Cory Blackett-Taylor, Jacob Maddox, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Stefan Payne all coming back into the side.

City took the lead as early as the second minute when a shot from Oscar Threlkeld deflected past Pilling into the net.

The goal was initially ruled offside by the referee’s assistant, but chief official James Adcock didn’t need VAR to established that the shot had come off a Tranmere defender and awarded the goal.

A good 10 minutes passed before Rovers fashioned any sort of notable attack, with Blackett-Taylor bouncing a long-range effort into the hands of Christopher Neal in the Salford goal.

When Emmanuel Dieseruvwe crossed for Dan Jones at the far post, the visitors thought they were about to double their advantage, but he was denied by the legs of Pilling.

When Salford made an early substitution, bringing on Jake Jervis, he nearly scored almost immediately, drilling a strike off the inside of the post before the loose ball was scrambled to safety.

Tranmere created very little for the remainder of the half in a drab contest of little incident. In a rare moment of danger, a freekick from Borthwick-Jackson in first half injury time was deflected over for a corner.

Salford came close to scoring again early in the second half when Brandon Asante tried to hook home a Jervis cross but he was bravely denied by the face of Sid Nelson. 

When Maddox steamed into the penalty area and volleyed just wide, Rovers finally looked ready to take the game to their League Two opponents.

But after Ray nodded a high ball over his own crossbar, Salford doubled their lead from the resultant corner, when former Rovers defender Hogan arrived completely unmarked at the back post and headed home from close range.

Tranmere huffed and puffed, as they laboured to carve out opportunities. An improvised overhead kick from Blackett-Taylor was held by Neal, before Jervis saw a low drive repelled by Pilling at the other end.

Mellon threw on Kieron Morris and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy in an attempt find some greater creativity, with the latter providing a degree of urgency at least.

Blackett-Taylor cut inside and blazed one over the bar before Ray headed into the arms of Neal.

Rovers rallied late on but it was too little too late as Salford deservedly collected all three points, ensuring that Tranmere advance into the round of 32 as runners-up, not group winners.

If they are to collect anything against Wycombe on Sunday, they will have to play at a significantly higher level than this showing.

Micky Mellon said: “It was important that we got the opportunity to give people a go. We had the opportunity on the night to give people the 90 minutes under their belt that they needed.

“In the team’s defence, it’s not a team that we’ve worked with before. Was the performance good enough? No, I’d have to say that. We didn’t really get going.

“The performance wouldn’t be what we would accept at any time but it was important that what got as many players as we could with time under their belts.

“That was probably the story of the game. To go into it in any great detail and think that we’ve learned anything about Tranmere as a first team would be wrong.

“We want them to put real pressure on the lads and push things forward but it just didn’t happen that way.”

Match Stats

Tranmere Rovers 0

Salford City 2

Threlkeld 2, Hogan 57

Half time: 0-1

Referee: James Adcock

Attendance: 1,196

Star man: Rushian Hepburn-Murphy (Tranmere forward)

Match rating: 1/5

Tranmere team (4-3-3): Pilling, Caprice, Nelson, Ray, Borthwick-Jackson, Maddox (Morris 75), Potter, Jennings, Blackett-Taylor, Payne (Hepburn-Murphy 75), Ferrier (Walker-Rice 84)

Tranmere subs: Jones, Ridehalgh, Monthe, Wilson

Salford team (4-4-2): Neal, Hughes (Lloyd-McGoldrick 46), Hogan, Piergianni, Wiseman, Doyle, Threlkeld (Baldwin 74), Jones, Whitehead (Jervis 28), Dieseruvwe, Asante

Salford subs: Evans, Touray, Towell, Armstrong