Bury 2, Tranmere 1

TRANMERE slumped to a fifth successive away defeat in League Two as they were edged out by promotion rivals Bury at Gigg Lane.

Nicky Maynard's header early on the second half gave the Shakers an early Christmas present which was gift-wrapped by substitute Caolan Lavery in injury time.

Ritchie Sutton pulled one back for Rovers straight away, but it was too late to muster an equaliser as the Whites suffered another loss on the road dropping down to ninth, but still well in touch with the play-off pack.

Micky Mellon made just one change to the side that saw off Southport in the FA Cup on Monday night, recalling Luke McCullough in place of Harvey Gilmour in midfield.

Pleased with what he saw at Haigh Avenue, the Scot kept faith with a three centre-back shape, allowing full backs Jake Caprice and Liam Ridehalgh to push further up the field.

After a fairly uneventful opening, Adam Thompson headed wide from a corner in the tenth minute, without troubling Scott Davies.

A cross from Ridehalgh was met the leap of Ellis but he could only direct his header onto the roof of the net.

James Norwood tried his luck from 25 yards with a low drilled effort but he could only pull it well wide.

The first shot on target in the match arrived in the 24th minute when Nicky Maynard turned Manny Monthe before seeing his curling effort saved by Davies at full stretch.

Tranmere should have led when a cross from Caprice found Norwood in the six-yard box but with the ball bouncing at a difficult height, he could only divert the ball over the bar with the goal at his mercy.

Bury responded with Callum Styles shooting over before Shakers’ captain Neil Danns hit a sweet left-footed strike just off target, as the game started to open up.

Norwood came close again when he nodded Paul Mullin’s left-foot cross just wide of the near post following a well-crafted move down the right.

Five minutes before the break Rovers’ rock and captain McNulty had to be withdrawn with an injury and was replaced by Ritchie Sutton.

Tranmere should have led at the break when in first half injury time another cross from Caprice found Norwood, who saw his shot saved by Joe Murphy, but on the rebound, Jay Harris could only stick the ball over the bar.

The hosts enjoyed a good spell of pressure early in the second half, winning a succession of corners. A shot from Shakers captain Dann was deflected just wide by Harris.

The pressure paid off on 52 minutes when a free kick from Nicky Adams was headed home by Maynard, to give the hosts the lead.

Rovers had barely had an attack of note after the break but on 64 minutes they should have drawn level when Caprice got in behind the defence and cross for Norwood who side-footed over the bar from only six yards out, to the dismay of the 1,241 away fans behind the goal.

A beautiful cross field ball from Norwood found Caprice on the right, who passed inside for Connor Jennings, but his first time shot trickled harmlessly wide.

Having failed to create any other chances of note in the second half Mellon brought on winger Jonny Smith with 10 minutes to play, in place of Caprice.

In the 90th minute Norwood was put in on goal by Harris, but the prolific striker was not enjoying one of his better days and shot weakly wide.

Bury doubled their lead in injury time when Rovers were caught upfield and substitute Lavery made space for himself in the penalty area before firing home.

To their credit, Tranmere immediately pulled one back when Sutton head home from a corner.

But despite a late bombardment it was all too little too late for Rovers, who’s very real promotion prospects are being hampered by their dreadful away form.

Supporters will be grateful for two home games over Christmas as they try to readdress the balance.

Rovers manager Micky Mellon said afterwards: "We missed a lot of good chances, which we’ll be disappointed that we haven’t taken.

"I trust my own eyes – I believe it’s not a free kick for their goal, so that first goal has been decided again by an official’s decision.

"We know we could have been better in certain areas of how we play – better with the ball and all the rest of it. We will keep working hard to try and improve and will we’ll work hard to hard to finish those chances when they come along. That’s all we can do.

"But in terms of desire and fight, I think they fought really hard. They always do. Maybe just at vital times a wee bit of composure might’ve served us a little bit better.

"When the chances came a wee bit of breath-taking might have made the goalkeeper work a little bit more for the opportunities that we got.

"Many times he’s (James Norwood) scored the winners so we can’t really turn around now and say anything other than we’re just glad that he’s getting the chances.

"We know that very capable and eventually they’ll go back in again but we probably have to look at it and say we’re creating chances at a very tough place and we’re disappointed not to take them."

Match stats:

Bury 2 (Maynard 52, Lavery 90+1)

Tranmere Rovers 1 (Sutton 90+4)

HT: 0-0

Referee: Andy Haines

Attendance: 4,748

Match rating: 2/5

Star man: Jake Caprice (Tranmere wing-back)

Bury: Murphy, Stokes, Aimson, Thompson, Adams, Styles, Moore (Lavery 62), McFadzean (O’Connell 76), O’Shea, Danns, Maynard (Telford 85)

Subs not used: Hudson, Miller, Dawson, Dagnall

Tranmere (3-5-2): Davies, Ellis, McNulty (Sutton 42), Monthe, Caprice (Smith 80), Harris, McCullough, Jennings, Ridehalgh, Mullin (Stockton 53), Norwood

Subs not used: George, Buxton, Gilmour, Bakayogo