Tranmere Rovers 3, Oxford City 3

COMPLACENT Tranmere needed a late equaliser from James Norwood to force an FA Cup first round replay against non-league Oxford City.

Rovers were expected to dispatch of their opponents easily at Prenton Park and led through Connor Jennings but Kabongo Tshimanga struck either side of half-time to put the National League South side in front.

Jennings levelled it up 11 minutes from time only for Tshimanga to grab a hat-trick goal four minutes later that seemed to be dumping Tranmere out of the competition.

But prolific goal scorer Norwood grabbed another equaliser in the 89th minute to avoid a massive upset.

With the focus very much on continuity, Micky Mellon made only one change to the side that swept aside Exeter City here last weekend.

On loan midfielder Luke McCullough did not have permission from his parent club Doncaster Rovers to appear in this competition for Tranmere and was replaced by Jay Harris.

A magnificent two minutes' silence was beautifully accompanied by a bugler playing the Last Post before the match, in recognition of Remembrance Sunday.

Rovers had a couple of early chances via Jennings and Paul Mullin, but City 'keeper Craig King was wise to both of them.

Ollie Banks side-footed a long-range effort wide before Norwood headed a free-kick from the Rovers midfield general into the palms of King, as the hosts laid siege on the City goal.

City had the ball in the net after 20 minutes when Frankie Musonda headed a Joe Ashby set piece home at the far post, but to the relief of the Rovers rear guard he was flagged offside.

Sloppy play from Banks and Harris presented a chance to Reece Fleet and his low drilled effort had to be deflected wide for a corner.

With King's gloves already suitably warmed up, he was able to get down low to deny a shot on the turn from Cole, on the half-hour mark.

Four minutes later Rovers went in front when Jennings reacted quickest to a loose ball and drove into the box before drilling a low strike home.

But five minutes later, the unfancied visitors were deservedly level.

A committed challenge from captain Joe Oastler dispossessed Harris on the edge of his own area, allowing Tshimanga to pick up the loose ball and take it around Davies before stroking it into the net.

Moments later they had a chance to take the lead when a disastrous header from Manny Monthe put Zac McEachran in on goal, but he rushed his shot and fired over, to the relief of the Kop.

Sensing the need for a freshen up, Mellon introduced forward Ben Tollitt at half-time, in place of Paul Mullin.

But City had the first chance of the second half when Tshimanga got in between Steve McNulty and Monthe before his weak shot was saved by Davies.

Oastler then saw a header palmed off the line by Davies from a corner as the visitors continued grow in confidence.

When Sam Nombe took a return pass from the excellent McEachran, Davies had to be at his best to rush off his line and deny him.

Johnny Smith had been brought on for Mullin to provide greater attacking intent, but when Norwood put him in on the right-hand side of the box, he opened up his body and side-footed well over the bar with his left.

With just under 25 minutes to play, Oxford took the lead when Tshimanga collected the ball on the edge of the area and worked himself a yard of space before drilling low past Davies, sending the travelling City supporters wild.

Rovers brought on Harvey Gilmour for the struggling Harris, as the hosts searched for an equaliser.

Free-flowing City looked for a third, with Davies saving a curled effort from Reece Fleet.

But 11 minutes from time, the Whites restored parity when a wicked deep cross from Banks was headed home by Jennings for his second of the afternoon.

Incredibly, four minutes later, Oxford retook the lead when Rovers failed to snuff out another attack allowing Nombe to square the ball to Tshimanga who hooked in his hat-trick.

But as the visitors tried to hold firm for a famous victory Norwood swept home another Banks delivery from the edge of the box to spare the Birkenhead club's blushes.

It was a lucky escape for a Tranmere side that seriously underperformed against superb Oxford, who deserved a replay as an absolute bare minimum for their efforts.

Micky Mellon said afterwards: "Every credit to Oxford City.

"They've come here and they've scored three goals and they find themselves really unhappy.

"If someone had said they'd scored three goals here, you'd think they'd be in the next round.

"We're still in the hat, that's the positive.

"It doesn't need me to stand here and try and be clever and tell everyone about how that was different to what we normally do. I think we all know that.

"You could pull anybody that watches Tranmere out of the crowd and they would tell you pretty much everything that I could tell you now.

"I'm not going to do you a disservice and explain that to you because you will know.

"Every credit to Oxford City.

"They can consider themselves very unlucky that they get to that stage and score that third goal and they don’t put us out.

"We live to fight another day."

Match stats:

Tranmere Rovers 3 (Jennings 34, 79 Norwood 89)

Oxford City 3 (Tshimanga 39, 66, 82)

Half time: 1-1

Referee: Daniel Middleton

Attendance: 4,206

Star man: Connor Jennings (Tranmere midfielder)

Match rating: 4/5

Tranmere: Davies, Caprice, McNulty, Monthe, Buxton, Harris (Gilmour 71), Banks, Mullin (Tollitt 46), Cole (Smith 57), Jennings, Norwood

Subs not used: George, Sutton, Mottley-Henry, Bakayogo

Oxford City: King, Godwin-Malife, Jefford, Ashby, Musonda, Oastler, Nombe (Jones 94), Fleet, Tshimanga, McEachran, Wiltshire

Subs not used: Card, Fasanmade, Bawling, Otudeko, Carter