Tranmere crashed out of the trophy third round after Leicester U21s came from behind to win 2-1 at Prenton Park.

Stefan Payne gave Rovers a first half lead but goals after the break from George Hirst and Admiral Muskwe ensured that it was the Foxes who will move into the quarterfinals.

With this competition a distant third in Tranmere’s priorities, behind battling relegation and the FA Cup, Micky Mellon named a largely changed side from the one that battled back from 3-0 down against Watford on Saturday.

Only Sid Nelson and Payne retained a starting berth, while cup hero Paul Mullin partnered the latter up front.

Former loanee Luke McCullough, who has signed for Rovers on non-contract terms, assumed a midfield role alongside Harvey Gilmour.

The Foxes had the first real chance of the match, 10 minutes in, when Hirst headed a cross straight into the clutches of Luke Pilling.

Probably the worst possible outcome for Rovers in this match was an injury to a first team player and that’s exactly what happened little over quarter of an hour into the match when Nelson hobbled off, replaced by young debutant Jake Burton.

Under 18s striker Burton soon found himself with a shooting opportunity when the ball broke to him in the box, but rushing his chance somewhat, he could only fire it directly off teammate Mullin’s ankle.

Hirst had another chance to give the visitors’ the lead in the 24th minute but he could only volley Mitch Clark’s deep cross over the bar.

But it was the hosts who took the lead just past the half hour mark, when a vicious corner from Danny Walker-Rice broke to Gilmour on the edge of the box and his low drive was turned home by Payne from close range.

Striker Payne then almost got on the scoresheet at the other end when a shot from the lively Clark deflected off him, but Pilling reacted quickly to make a reflex stop.

Mullin unsuccessfully tried to catch the Foxes’ ‘keeper off his line from fully 45 yards but Rovers were good value for their half time lead, dealing well with the visitors’ threat from set pieces.

It only took Leicester seven minutes to pull level after the restart however, when Hirst took a pass down in the box, switched it onto his left foot and drilled it past Pilling at his near post.

Tranmere were matching their opponents all over the park in terms of energy and desire but the Premier League under 21 side’s quality was a constant danger.

The excellent Kyle Hayde made a last-ditch block to prevent a certain Leicester goal before the Foxes had a goal correctly ruled out for offside.

But with McCullough withdrawn and pressure mounting, the visitors took the lead with quarter of an hour to play when Muskwe managed to wriggle clear of the Rovers defence and hammered the ball past Pilling.

Rovers wanted a penalty in stoppage time when Burton’s shot appeared to be handled in the area, but they only got a corner and the Foxes escaped.

This was a spirited display from a young Tranmere team but with bigger fish to fry Mellon won’t be losing any sleep over their elimination here.

Match stats

Tranmere Rovers 1

Payne 31

Leicester U21s 2

Hirst 52, Muskwe 74

Half time: 1-0

Referee: Martin Coy

Attendance: 901

Star man: Kyle Hayde (Tranmere defender)

Match rating: 3/5

Tranmere team (3-4-3): Pilling, Nelson (Burton 17), Ray, Spellman, Hayde, Gilmour, McCullough (Blackham 63), Walker-Rice, Nugent (Sinnott 81), Payne, Mullin

Tranmere subs not used: Passant, Musuamba, Thompson, Gouldbourne

Leicester U21s team (4-4-2): Jakupovic, Thomas, Muskwe, Leshabeza (Daley-Campbell 90), Johnson, Hirst, Ughezumba, Dewsbury-Hall, O’Connor (Reghba 46), Clark, Thomas

Leicester U21s subs not used: Storlarczyk, Hulme, Shade, Tee, Russ