Tranmere Rovers fell to a 3-2 defeat at Notts County on a bitterly cold afternoon at Meadow Lane.
Goals from Jonny Smith and Connor Jennings were not enough for Rovers, who will have felt hard done by not to leave with anything to show for their efforts.
Manager Micky Mellon brought in Larnell Cole for the game at County after the midfielder’s recent absence through injury.
Mark Ellis, Jake Caprice, Ritchie Sutton, Zoumana Bakayogo and Jake Caprice also started for the visitors against the World’s oldest Football League club, who were starting a new chapter under Neal Ardley, the manager’s first home game in charge of the Magpies.
Tranmere, donning their blue away strip, made a bright start in awful weather conditions in the Midlands, and on the tenth minute, Jennings had a great chance to put the visitors ahead.
Captain for the day, Scott Davies, reacted quickly to throw the ball down the channel for James Norwood for the striker to feed the ball into the penalty area. Cleverly left by Smith, Jennings was presented with a chance to strike on goal, but the ball was deflected behind for a corner.
One minute later, County dangerman Nathan Thomas took the game to Rovers and danced his way past three players, only for his strike to creep just wide of Davies’ far post.
The League Two encounter was a tight affair with not much between the two teams, however it was County that found a breakthrough just after the half hour mark.
Former Premier League front man Stead, who was booked five minutes before the goal for a nasty challenge on Sutton, was left unmarked at the back post to fire home.
However, Tranmere’s heads didn’t drop and soon after were level, as Smith went on a tantalising run from the right to curl the ball into the far corner to send the away support into celebration.
But the celebrations were short lived, as before the half time whistle, a defensive mix up for Rovers allowed Kane Hemmings to simply tap home from close range to give the hosts the lead heading into the break.
Rovers were rejuvenated after the 15 minute break and on the 59th minute drew level courtesy of a perfectly placed header from Jennings. Our number 11 found space at the back post to nod home Smith’s cross.
Tranmere were the team on the ascendency and pushing for the fifth goal of the game. Winger Smith, a threat all afternoon, nearly had his second, but his first time effort inside the area was expertly kept out by Notts shot stopper Ross Fitzsimons.
Mellon’s first change was Cole replaced by Harvey Gilmour.
Despite Tranmere pilling the pressure on, defender Ellis was adjudged to have brought down Hemmings in the penalty box, with the referee pointing to the spot. Stead stepped up and hammered the ball past Davies as County restored their goal advantage.
Tranmere reacted to the goal and brought on Paul Mullin for Harris. However, Rovers couldn't find a way back into the game for a third time and attention now turns to Southport in the FA Cup second round replay on Monday night.
Davies, Caprice, Ellis, Sutton, Bakayogo, Harris (Mullin 77), McCullough, Jennings, Cole (Gilmour 74), Smith, Norwood.
Attendance: 6535 (762 away)