A late wonder strike by Steve Jennings denied Notts County a point against Tranmere Rovers. The midfielder’s match-winner clinched a 3-2 win and added to strikes by Ryan Lowe and Jason Koumas, which outnumbered goals from Ronan Murray and Alan Sheehan.
Manager Shaun Derry shook up his starting 11 for the six-pointer at Prenton Park, as he made four changes to the side that faced MK Dons in midweek. Dean Leacock missed out through injury but Jack Grealish, Callum McGregor and Manny Smith all dropped to the bench.
Haydn Hollis, Greg Tempest, Murray and Jimmy Spencer, who was back from suspension, were all given the nod in a 4-4-2 formation that utilised Spencer and Nathan Tyson in attack. Tempest partnered Gary Liddle in midfield, Murray took up a spot on the left and Hollis lined up alongside Hayden Mullins to make up a new-look centre-back pairing.
The County defence came under early pressure but came away from two scares unscathed. James Wallace watched a header swerve away from the top-left corner from a Jason Koumas corner and, moments later, set Jake Cassidy free inside the box but the forward fired straight at Bartosz Bialkowski.
Notts punished Tranmere for their missed chances in the 14th minute, after goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams spilled Spencer’s low drive across goal. Murray pounced and took a touch before placing home in front of the jubilant Black and White Army, which also included a battalion of Star Wars Storm Troopers.
The lead lasted just 11 minutes as Koumas capitalised on the Magpies’ failure to clear their lines. The experienced midfielder collected on the edge of the box and was able to rifle out of Bialkowski’s reach, inside the right-hand upright.
On 28, Rovers struck again, following fine work in the left channel by Stephen Arthurworrey. The full-back reached the byline and provided a low cut back for Lowe, who fired unstoppably into the top-right corner.
County had a golden opportunity to respond immediately when centre-back Ash Taylor upended Liddle inside the area. Sheehan placed down the centre but Fon Williams made amends for his earlier mistake by keeping out the effort with his trailing leg.
The stopper had more work to do after Lowe curled inches wide at the other end of the pitch. From the left flank, Tyson met Murray’s run into the area, only Fon Williams reacted superbly to keep out the Irishman’s low hit with a one-handed parry.
It was end-to-end action and Tranmere thought they had made it 3-1 when Taylor connected with another well-placed Koumas corner. Bialkowski was able to get his body behind the ball and Murray finished the job in eradicating the danger by hacking off the goal-line.
Ahead of the interval, Notts came agonisingly close to an equaliser when Jamal Campbell-Ryce found Spencer with a dangerous cross from the right. The striker beat Fon Willams with a delicate touch, only the ball curled away from the far corner.
Campbell-Ryce remained a big threat in the second half and beat his man on the right to pick out Tyson, who headed over at the back post under heavy pressure. Even better was the winger’s next cross – a teasing delivery behind the home rearguard - but Tyson was unable to make contact inside the six-yard box.
Continuing the pressure, a tidy passing move involving Sheehan, Tempest, Liddle and Murray saw the latter sent tumbling on 25 yards from goal. Sheehan took on the responsibility and made up for his earlier penalty miss with a superb free-kick into the top-left corner.
Murray attempted to put Notts back in front with a decent 20-yard hit, which forced Fon Williams into a reaching save. Rovers also came close through Cassidy and Jake Kirby as the pace picked up again.
Tyson was replaced by Grealish and the substitute came within a whisker of making it 3-2 to the Magpies. Campbell-Ryce delivered his best cross of the game that looked set to find the on-loan Aston Villa winger a yard from goal but Danny Holmes produced an outstanding goal-denying header.
On 80, Max power let loose with a fierce long-range shot and Bialkowski was required to adjust his body mid-flight to turn behind. His opposite number Fon Williams was later required to come to the rescue when he blocked a driven Campbell-Ryce centre and another to keep out Murray’s follow-up attempt.
Tranmere dealt the next blow with just six minutes left on the clock through a thunderous 25-yard hit by Jennings into the top-right corner. The Pole had been at his best just seconds earlier to frustrate Lowe with an excellent parry to his left but could do nothing to keep out the next effort.
Callum McGregor was thrown into the mix in a late bid to snatch something from the game. The Magpies altered to an attacking 3-4-3 but Tranmere piled bodies behind the ball and held on for a vital three points.
Notts ended the day seven points adrift of safety, despite their best efforts. Carlisle back at Meadow Lane becomes a must win if the team is to kick off a Great Escape in the remaining nine matches.