Tranmere Rovers 3 Ebbsfleet United 0

IMPRESSIVE Tranmere moved to within two points of the National League summit with a convincing victory over rough-and-ready Ebbsfleet at Prenton Park.

Strikers Andy Cook and James Norwood (2) both found the net as Rovers made it eight home wins on the spin and laid down a marker to their promotion rivals.

Micky Mellon initially named an unchanged side from the one that drew 2-2 with Wrexham last weekend.

However, he was forced into a last minute change of plan when Adam Buxton withdrew with a calf injury moments before kick off.

In the subsequent reshuffle Liam Ridehalgh moved over to right back with Eddie Clarke coming in at left back.

The home supporters were delighted to see star winger Ben Tollitt back amongst the substitutes having played only 40 minutes all season.

After a scrappy start, Ollie Norburn tried his luck with a 30-yard free kick in the 10th minute but it sailed well over.

Just past the quarter of and hour mark Rovers went ahead when Cook collected the ball on the edge of the box and steadied himself before unleashing a pile driver into the top corner.

United seemed to want a physical battle but their hosts were up for the fight.

A beautiful sweeping move from Tranmere saw Josh Ginnelly cross low for Norwood but his side foot shot was just tipped around the post by Nathan Ashmore.

The Ebbsfleet 'keeper then denied Norwood again after Cook fed his strike partner and from the resultant corner Noburn saw a snapshot cleared off the goal line.

Rovers nearly paid for letting United off the hook when Myles Weston blazed over the bar at the other end when he really should have done better.

Rhys Taylor was then forced to deny Dave Winfield low to his right when the centre back headed a corner towards goal.

But moments later Tranmere doubled their lead when Norwood picked up the ball in similar spot to Cook and shifted it onto his left foot before he smashed a low strike past Ashmore.

Rampant Rovers turned up the heat and almost grabbed a third before the break.

Cook saw an effort deflected over before the Ebbsfleet rear guard managed to scramble the subsequent corner over the bar.

United fought back just before the break.

First Taylor acrobatically denied Weston before a rocket from Danny Kedwell flew inches off target.

Norwood should have made it three nil shortly after the restart but his unfortunate knack for missing one-v-one chances rung true again here as a weak shot was saved by Ashmore.

Weston tried another long-range effort for the Fleet but again it was way off target.

A spill from Taylor almost allowed Winfield to pull one back for the southerners, but he could only find the side netting.

That would prove costly for Ebbsfleet as with their next attack Rovers got a third and this time when Norwood got in behind the defence he made no mistake, stroking it past Ashmore to score his 50th career Tranmere goal.

Connor Jennings fizzed one over the bar before the loudest cheer of the day was afforded to Tollitt as he came on alongside Jeff Hughes with quarter of an hour to go.

Fleet almost pulled one back when Kedwell outpaced Ritchie Sutton and crossed for Bradley Bubb, but he could only put it wide on the stretch.

Norwood tried a side-footed half-volley for his hat-trick but it was straight at Ashmore and that was his last action – making way for Andy Mangan.

A mazy dribble from Tollitt almost saw the fan’s favourite cap his return with a goal but he could only slice his effort wide.

The overworked Ashmore denied Hughes late on but it mattered little as Tranmere collected all three points and kept their title tilt bang on course.

Rovers' boss Micky Mellon said: "We're pleased to get the result, delighted to score three goals and get a clean sheet at home, keeping that home record going – it's obviously very pleasing. A good days work.

"I think we worked very hard and there were some professional men's performances all over the pitch.

"I'm really pleased to be able to get people like Tollitt and Mangy on.

"All of the pitch – I think it would be wrong of my to single anyone out, they were all superb.

"We love Nors (Norwood).

"We're going to need our big players performing all the way through until the end of the season and he’s certainly doing that for us at the minute."

Match stats

Tranmere Rovers: 3 Cook 16, Norwood 36, 64

Ebbsfleet United 0

Half-time: 2-0

Star man: James Norwood (Tranmere striker)

Attendance: 5,183

Entertainment: 3/5 Ref rating: Daniel Middleton (7/10) Tranmere (4-4-2): Taylor 6; Ridehalgh 7, McNulty 9, Sutton 7, Clarke 7; Ginnelly 7 (Tollitt 74, 6), Norburn 7 (Hughes 74, 6), Harris 8, Jennings 7; Cook 9, Norwood 9 (Mangan 85, NA)

Subs not used: Pilling, Gumbs Ebbsfleet (4-2-3-1): Ashmore 8, McCoy 6, Winfield 7, Magri 6, Bush 6; Rance 5, Payne 5; Weston 5, Coulson 6 (Bubb 60, 5), Wilson 6; Kedwell 6 Subs not used: Connors, Powell, Drury, Jordan