HUDDERSFIELD Town ended up drawing a match they might well have won – but could just as easily have lost!
Second best in the first half as Tranmere Rovers made a nonsense of their League I position, Lee Clark’s side made a strong start to the second.
And when Jordan Rhodes gave them the lead with his 29th goal of the season in the 49th minute, the stage looked set for a fourth successive victory.
But Rovers responded with a quickfire leveller, Adam McGurk heading home powerfully from close range, and had the better chances thereafter.
It was frustrating that second-placed Town, forced to reshuffle after Danny Ward then Alan Lee went off injured, had to make do with putting one rather than three points between themselves and the two Sheffield sides, who were both in FA Cup action.
But the visitors, chasing a fourth consecutive win at Prenton Park, were never at their best as Tranmere took charge of midfield and ensured the impressive Sean Morrison had a busy debut in central defence after moving on loan from Reading last week.
Clark made four changes in the wake of the 3-2 home win over Brentford, with Morrison replacing captain Peter Clarke, Damien Johnson returning to midfield for Tommy Miller, Danny Cadamarteri coming in for the injured Gary Roberts and Lee Novak preferred to Lee.
Writing in the match programme, Rovers manager Les Parry bemoaned his side’s inability to take the many chances they are creating, and his point was well illustrated in the opening period.
Three times his players contrived to shoot wide when well placed.
First, when Johnson blocked McGurk’s 13th-minute shot, John Welsh swung an inviting ball back in only for Mustafa Tiryaki to prod off target from 10 yards out.
Then former Barnsley midfielder Martin Devaney was profligate, wasting good work by Tiryaki, who latched onto on-loan Everton man James Wallace’s smart pass, flicked the ball past Morrison and pulled it back neatly to his waiting teammate.
Former Town frontman Lucas Akins was next to leave the home faithful with heads in hands as he failed to test Ian Bennett after being teed up by Devaney.
Little had been seen of Town as an attacking force in the first half, but they were soon on the attack after the break.
Morrison, who had already unveiled a useful long throw, showed his strength in the air he put Johnson’s 47th-minute centre just wide.
Cadamarteri had been one of Town’s liveliest performers, and the wideman played a key role when his side scored.
Right-back Jack Hunt supplied a deep cross which Cadamarteri pulled back into the path of Rhodes, who made no mistake from 15 yards.
Town had to make an immediate change, with Ward hobbling off, Tom Clarke coming on at right-back and Hunt moving up.
And just as Clarke was getting his bearings, McGurk arrived at the far post to meet Devaney’s cross from wide on the right and give Bennett no chance with a firm header.
Town’s keeper was equal to Wallace’s flicked effort in the 59th minute and Devaney’s shot in the 64th.
But there was a nervy moment in the 78th, when the experienced stopper spilled Wallace’s shot and looked on in relief as the ball went for a corner.
Lee, having come on for Novak in the 63rd minute, suffered a hip injury in a challenge by rugged centre-back Ian Goodison and was forced off in the 81st, with Anton Robinson introduced.
The latest substitute pushed forward with purpose, but it was Tranmere who came closest to clinching victory.
It took a great block by Clarke to thwart Lateef Elford-Alliyu, and from the resultant corner, Bennett saved on the line from Ryan Brunt.