Josh Hawkes’ 74th minute penalty earned Tranmere Rovers an impressive 1-0 win away at promotion-chasing Stevenage in Sky Bet League Two on Saturday afternoon.
Hawkes’ goal proved decisive at The Lamex Stadium, as Tranmere put in a fantastic performance to secure a hard-fought victory in Hertfordshire.
Jordan Turnbull and Paul Lewis replaced Kyle Jameson and Joe Mumbongo in Micky Mellon’s starting line-up.
The first chance of the game fell to Steve Evans’ Stevenage on 14 minutes. Jake Reeves’ free-kick was met by Carl Piergianni’s header across the box which a combination of Joe Murphy and captain Tom Davies cleared behind for a corner.
Reeves’ resulting set-piece saw Murphy punch the ball clear before being fouled in the process.
Murphy was called upon again minutes later, as Murphy had to deal with Kane Smith’s looping cross from the left.
Rovers’ first attack forward came midway through the half, as Josh Dacres-Cogley’s surging run down the right ended with his cross being cleared at the back post by Smith, with Lewis and Jay Turner-Cooke waiting to pounce.
Tranmere forced goalkeeper Toby Savin into a save when Josh Hawkes cut inside but his tame effort deflected off Dan Sweeney and into the grasp of the Boro stopper.
On the half-hour mark, Murphy tipped Luke Norris’ powerful header from six yards over the crossbar, with the offside flag up to earn Rovers a free-kick.
In a tightly contested half, Rovers were dealing with their hosts well. Lee O’Connor was well-positioned to thwart a strike from Jordan Roberts, before Norris sent a snapshot across the turf wide inside the box.
Up the other end, after positive build-up play involving Turner-Cooke and Regan Hendry, Lewis fed a through ball towards Harvey Saunders, but the Rovers forward hit his left-footed shot into Savin’s side-netting.
In the final minutes of the half, Sweeney whipped an enticing low cross from the left for Danny Rose to steer his unmarked diving header which narrowly went wide of Murphy’s far post.
Rovers started the second-half positively and had two opportunities in the first five minutes.
Firstly, Hendry drove forward with possession to hit a well-struck shot from 25-yards which Savin gathered to keep out at the second attempt after a bobble off the turf.
Saunders then threw himself at Dacres-Cogley’s cross, however his guided header took an unfortunate ricochet off Sweeney into Savin’s gloves.
Rovers were under pressure shortly after. Savin claimed O’Connor’s cross and quickly bowled an overarm throw out to Alex Gilbey, who went on a roaming run on the right into the Rovers box, with Murphy saving well with his legs.
Stevenage went close from their corner, with Max Clark firing left-footed from outside the box after receiving Smith’s pass, as Murphy watched his strike all the way over the crossbar.
Mellon made his first change on 65 minutes as Chris Merrie replaced Turner-Cooke.
Pushing for an opener, Murphy had to hold onto Reeves’ volley from the edge of the box after Davies’ headed clearance could only find the Stevenage midfielder.
Jake Taylor’s attempt was charged down by Ethan Bristow, as the loose ball was cleared by Hendry.
Merrie had his part to play when Rovers were awarded a penalty on 74 minutes after he set up O’Connor who was brought down in the box by Daryl Hogan, prompting referee Martin Woods to point to the spot.
Up-stepped Hawkes who coolly dispatched his right-footed spot-kick from 12-yards into the bottom right-corner despite Savin guessing the right way, in front of the delirious travelling SWA.
Turnbull had to thump Clark’s dangerous ball into the box to safety, as Rovers were forced to deal with significant pressure late on.
Jake Forster-Caskey’s free-kick caused alarm in the Rovers box, however Sweeney’s close-range header was saved by Murphy.
Rovers’ second change came with three minutes or normal time left, with Jake Burton coming on for Saunders.
TRFC had six minutes of added time to navigate, - with Jameson replacing goal scorer Hawkes - and survived a scare when Norris was unable to turn Jamie Reid’s shot across goal from a matter of yards, to earn an excellent three points on the road.
Rovers return to Prenton Park on Tuesday night when they host Crawley Town, 7:45pm kick-off.
Tranmere: Murphy, Dacres-Cogley, Turnbull, Davies, Bristow, Turner-Cooke (Merrie 66), O'Connor, Hendry, Hawkes (Jameson 90+3), Lewis, Saunders (Burton 88)
Subs not used: Hewelt, Fisher, Chalmers, Mumbongo
Goal: Hawkes, 74 (pen)