Tranmere fought back against Fleetwood Town but it was not enough as the Cod Army held on to collect all three points, leaving Micky Mellon’s men hovering perilously over the relegation zone.

The hosts led at half-time thanks to a perfectly executed Josh Morris free kick and despite a spirited second half Rovers fight back, Paddy Madden doubled Town’s advantage eight minutes from time.

Substitute Paul Mullin pulled one back for the visitors in the 87th minute, but even with a lengthy spell of injury time, they could not muster an equaliser and were condemned to a ninth defeat of the season.

Despite playing 120 minutes mid-week in the heroic extra time FA cup victory over Wycombe Wanderers, Mellon made only two changes, one of which was enforced.

Suspended Kane Wilson was replaced by Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, while Rushian Hepburn-Murphy came in for Stefan Payne up front.

Rovers made a composed start and Ferrier had a chance to put them ahead in the seventh minute, but he stumbled on receipt of the ball, allowing Harry Souttar to make a vital clearance.

But it was the hosts who took the lead on the quarter of an hour mark, when Connor Jennings brought down former Liverpool prospect Jordan Rossiter on the edge of the box.

Morris took full advantage, curling a sumptuous free kick left-footed into the top corner, leaving Scott Davies clutching thin air.

A fluid counter-attack from Fleetwood saw the ball back in Tranmere’s net just a few minutes later, but this time they were spared by a very welcome offside flag. 

Rovers hadn’t tested Billy Crellin in the Town goal for almost all of the opening half hour, but he failed his first examination when he was beaten to a high ball into the box from Jake Caprice by Manny Monthe, who saw his goal bound header nodded behind for a corner. 

Mellon made a tactical change eight minutes before the break, bringing on winger Corey Blackett-Taylor for centre-back George Ray and switching to a 4-4-2 formation.

Blackett-Taylor’s impact was immediate, turning Lewie Coyle inside out before crossing for Hepburn-Murphy, who saw his looping header just fall wide of the post.

The change in shape gave Rovers greater attacking impetus, as they came firing out of the blocks at the start of the second half.

A succession of corners and a free kick preceded a sweeping move involving, Morgan Ferrier, Hepburn-Murphy and Caprice, who saw his low cross desperately cleared.

Chief tormentor Blackett-Taylor outpaced Coyle and cut inside before firing a shot that Crellin had to palm behind at full stretch.

Tranmere caused havoc from the resultant corner, with Ferrier acrobatically volleying over from close range, albeit with a flag raised.

Fleetwood manager Joey Barton sensed the danger and made a double substitution to try and shore things up.

But when Crellin ventured outside his penalty area, mis control gifted the ball to Hepburn-Murphy with the goal at his mercy only for the referee to deny him a chance to equalise by ruling that the Rovers striker had handled the ball.

Fleetwood were still a danger at the other end however and when substitute Ched Evans got in round the back, his first-time volley flew just wide.

When Borthwick-Jackson’s cross deflected goalwards, Rovers looked to have their equaliser, before Crellin somehow clawed It off the line.

Tranmere continued to heap pressure on the Fleetwood defence, with their 1000-odd fans urging them on behind the goal.

Blackett-Taylor and Caprice continued to carve out near-miss opportunities but the Whites’ failure to convert one was punished eight minutes from time when the hosts doubled their lead.

As Fleetwood attacked down the right, Rovers failed to properly cut out a cross into the box, allowing Madden to pounce from 12 yards out.

Mellon threw on Mullin for Hepburn-Murphy immediately and a minute later he was on the score sheet.

When a Morris corner fell to Borthwick-Jackson on the edge of the box, his shot was diverted over the line by substitute Mullin, setting up a grandstand finish.

As the match moved into six minutes of time added on, Crellin held a shot by Ferrier before Mellon threw Monthe up front in a last throw of the dice.

But ultimately Tranmere ran out of time to conjure an equaliser and left Highbury pointless.

As disappointing as that was, this was a performance of genuine endeavour that Rovers can feel unfortunate not have collected at least a point from.

They now turn their attention back to the FA Cup, where progression beyond Chichester City is the minimum expectation.

Micky Mellon said: “The first 45 minutes it took us too long to get going. That’s for sure. We were just jovially taking part.

“The first goal I believe is a goal kick to us – I think everyone in the stadium saw that – and then we gave away a free kick from it. The goal may be decided on a referee’s decision.

“And then there’s two guys in the wall blocking our goalkeeper’s view. Again, he doesn’t see that. I’m not making excuses, I’m just telling you facts of what happened.

“I’m disappointed again that we’ve lost two goals, but second half we’ve come out and we were the team in the ascendancy and I think the only thing that beat us in the end was time. 

“I don’t think we were beaten by a team that was in control. Second half was miles better. Much more intensity representing our fantastic fans that we had today.”


Fleetwood Town 2

Morris 15, Madden 82

Tranmere Rovers 1

Mullin 87

Half time: 1-0

Referee: Josh Smith

Attendance: 3,811

Star man: Corey Blackett-Taylor (Tranmere midfielder)

Match rating: 3/5

Fleetwood team (4-3-3): Crellin, Coyle, Eastham, Souttar, Andrew, Burns (Hunter 57), Dempsey, Morris, Coutts (Evans 57), Rossiter (Sowerby 76), Madden

Fleetwood subs: Cairns, McAleny, Dunne, Biggins

Tranmere team (3-5-2): Davies, Nelson, Ray (Blackett-Taylor 37), Monthe, Caprice, Potter (Perkins 64), Jennings, Morris, Borthwick-Jackson, Hepburn-Murphy (Mullin 86), Ferrier

Tranmere subs: Pilling, Woods, Maddox, Payne