Mansfield Town 3, Tranmere Rovers 0

TROUBLED Tranmere saw Ollie Banks sent off as they crashed to a morale-sapping 3-0 defeat at promotion-chasing Mansfield Town.

Jorge Grant had already given the Stags the lead before Banks picked up two yellow cards in five minutes before half-time, rendering Rovers' chances of victory hopeless.

Tyler Walker and Grant added another two after the break, condemning the Birkenheaders to a sixth defeat in their last eight matches away from home, leaving them cut adrift in tenth place.

Micky Mellon made two changes to the side that lost at home to Swindon Town last time out, bringing in Adam Buxton for the injured Mark Ellis.

Ishmael Miller requires an operation on a hamstring problem sustained against the Robins and was replaced by Connor Jennings.

The first action worthy of any note arrived in the 14th minute when Matt Preston stuck a header just wide of Scott Davies' goal, following a set piece from Grant.

A wild 20-yard shot from Neal Bishop sailed well wide six minutes later before Rovers went close at the other end with Banks just failing to reach a bi-line cross from James Norwood.

But when Steve McNulty was booked for bringing down Tayler Walker on the edge of the penalty area, the Stags took full advantage as Grant expertly lifted the ball over the Tranmere wall into the top corner.

With Luke McCullough and McNulty already on cautions, Banks became the third Tranmere player to go into the referee's notebook with an ugly lunge on Grant.

The midfielder clearly learnt nothing from his booking, as only five minutes later he went in late on Mal Banning and collected his second yellow and an early bath, all inside the opening 37 minutes.

Mansfield nearly doubled their lead two minutes before the break when Grant side-footed Walker's low cross just wide.

Despite the adversity, Tranmere did fashion a couple of chances in first half injury time.

McCullough saw a low drive deflected wide and from the subsequent corner Liam Ridehalgh’s wind-assisted cross was headed over the bar by Norwood.

A far post header from CJ Hamilton landed in the clutches of Davies just before half-time, as hapless Rovers kept the deficit to one at the break.

A long-range effort from Connor Jennings early in the second half drifted high and wide, as Rovers set about mounting an unlikely comeback.

The hosts weren't exactly making their numerical advantage count – a wayward shot from Jacob Mellis the best they could muster up to the hour mark – but with 25 minutes to play Mansfield doubled their lead.

A fierce shot from Nicky Ajose was saved by Davies, but he could only bat it down into the path of Walker, who slotted home from eight yards out.

Three minutes later Mansfield scored a third in almost identical fashion to the second.

This time Walker's rasping drive bounced off Davies' chest and Grant was within sniffing distance to roll in his second of the afternoon.

From here on it was damage limitation for the visitors.

Ryan Sweeney had a fourth goal for Mansfield ruled out for offside, before Davies made good saves from shots by substitute Otis Khan and Hamilton.

With McNulty on a caution, Mellon had elected not risk him any further after the third goal and had replaced him with debutant Ben Pringle, but he barely got a kick as Rovers had to write off another afternoon on the road.

Tranmere's progress in the first half of the season suggested that they would be well in the mix for promotion, but their indifferent form since mid-November has resulted in a gradual slide down the table that they will do well to improve on at this stage.

Micky Mellon said afterwards: "It goes without saying that we're gutted with the result. We made it very difficult for ourselves with the sending off and it was always going to be a tough afternoon for us.

"But in terms of work rate – the boys kept fighting.

"There's no way you could fault them for that. But again, it's been a tough afternoon with a lot of things decided by a referee who's decided how the game’s going to be played and made it very difficult for us.

"To be fair I think he (Banks) shouldn't go for the challenge. If you're going for a challenge you've got to get the ball.

"If you're already on a yellow you don't go for another tackle like that.

"Then all their players give the referee a decision to make and let's be fair he was only going to go one way, wasn't he?

"We obviously shot ourselves in the foot.

"It's always going to be difficult after that against a team that's riding high like Mansfield.

"That's the disappointing thing."