Tranmere Rovers will take an advantage going in to the League Two Play-Off semi-final second-leg after Ollie Banks’ first-half stunning strike earned a 1-0 victory over 10-man Forest Green Rovers at Prenton Park on Friday night.
Banks’ long-range opener gave Tranmere the lead midway through the first half after Forest Green defender Gavin Gunning was sent off for an off the ball incident on Jay Harris.
Micky Mellon’s men began brightly, seeing early openings through Connor Jennings and top-scorer James Norwood fail to test Lewis Ward in the visitors’ goal.
Forest Green were reduced to 10 men after 15 minutes of the game played after referee John Busby showed Gunning a straight red card.
And TRFC took full advantage of their numerical advantage with 26 minutes on the clock, as Banks opened the scoring in style.
He received a pass from Kieron Morris before arrowing a right-footed dipping drive from 25-yards which beat Ward to crash off the underside of the crossbar and over the line.
Buoyed by their lead, Rovers went close again, with Ward pushing Norwood’s effort from 10-yards away for a corner.
Up the other end, Forest Green forward Christian Doidge could only drag his snapshot wide of Scott Davies’ goal when under pressure as Mark Cooper’s Green Devils pressed for a leveller on the Wirral.
In the closing stages of the half, forward Norwood had two opportunities which were both supplied to him down the right by full-back Jake Caprice.
Firstly, a teasing ball to the back-post saw Norwood get beyond his marker, throwing himself at the ball before poking his shot just wide before clipping a left-footed attempt over the crossbar.
Shortly after the break, defender Manny Monthe came to TRFC’s rescue, performing a perfectly-timed tackle on Doidge in the penalty area after the Welshman had raced through on goal with only keeper Davies to beat.
Norwood later glanced Liam Ridehalgh’s floated cross from the left just past the post with Tranmere pushing for a second goal in front of a packed-out Kop end of Prenton Park.
Caprice was next to try his luck, reacting smartly to a short corner from the right, the Londoner fizzed his low drive along the turf which was pushed away by Ward before being cleared.
Ward again was on hand to keep his team in the contest, saving from Norwood’s downwards header.
Forest Green then had a claim for a penalty waved away by referee Busby after substitute George Williams was brought down by Ridehalgh in the penalty area.
Reece Brown later spurned a great opening to equalise for the Gloucestershire outfit but he could only shoot low wide.
Tranmere could have had their second deep in to the second-half, though Norwood’s half-volley in the area was well-held by Ward.
TRFC secured the win in front of the SWA, and with it, the advantage going in to Monday’s second-leg at the New Lawn, kick-off 7:45pm.
TRFC: Davies ©; Caprice, Nelson, Monthe, Ridehalgh, Harris, Perkins, Morris (Smith 61) Banks (Gilmour 75) Jennings, Norwood
Unused subs: Buxton, McNulty, Pilling, Pringle, Dagnall