LETHAL Lee Novak delivered that most rare of commodities – a Town victory at Prenton Park.
The Geordie struck early in each half as Lee Clark’s side made it three wins from three games on the road and 10 unbeaten in the League I.
It was only the club’s fourth win in 22 visits to Tranmere, and their first at the venue since 1998-99.
And it provided the perfect launchpad for Saturday’s big home derby against Leeds.
The game only got the go-ahead following an afternoon inspection, with the pitch, which had been partially frozen, showing signs of wear.
Town were unchanged for the second game running as they aimed to build on wins at Carlisle and Hartlepool.
Tranmere were without Manchester City defender Shaleum Logan due to suspension, and had another loan player, Leicester’s Luke O’Neill, in at right-back.
The bitterly cold and snowy conditions were reflected by the use of an orange ball in the opening stages, but Town fans were soon warming their hands thanks to a seventh-minute goal.
Danny Drinkwater was the initial architect, nicking past Ian Goodison on the right and delivering an accurate low cross to the near post.
Jordan Rhodes shot first time, with keeper Luke Daniels doing well to parry for a corner.
When Gary Roberts delivered the flag kick with pace, Novak’s first header was cleared off the line and his follow-up pawed back out by Daniels, only for referee Andy Penn to rule it had crossed the line on the advice of an assistant.
It was a great start for Town, and they caused panic in the home penalty area in the 13th minute, when Anthony Pilkington’s low cross had Rovers at sixes and sevens.
All it needed was a touch from a Town player, but somehow the ball was hacked to safety.
Antony Kay, making his first return to Prenton Park after two seasons as a Tranmere player, tried his luck from 25 yards out in the 18th minute, but his shot fizzed over.
While Craig Curran and Ian Thomas-Moore both had early shots blocked, on-loan Watford striker Marvin Sordell was looking lively for Rovers, and his flick put Goodison into space in the 21st minute.
Alex Smithies spread himself well, however, and the Jamaican defender screwed his attempt over.
Town’s stopper then came racing out of his area to clear from Sordell on the half hour.
Rhodes was having a great tussle with Goodison, and after wrong-footing former Sheffield Wednesday man Marlon Broomes in the 37th minute, he held off the big defender and fired in a shot which Daniels held well.
Tranmere, with Charlie Barnett on for Gareth Edds, had the first shot on target in the second half, with Smithies blocking Sordell’s angled drive.
But Town struck just 122 seconds after the restart, with Novak again doing the damage.
This time the former Gateshead man latched onto Peter Clarke’s pass, rampaged down the right and sent an angled shot across Daniels and into the corner of the net, much to the delight of the Town fans massed behind the goal.
Tranmere looked shell-shocked, and Pilkington brought a smart reaction save from Daniels with a shot from Roberts’ 49th-minute cross.
Town again came close to a third after 63 minutes, with Novak’s shot blocked by Daniels and looping up to Rhodes, whose follow-up effort was well saved.
At the other end, Smithies was perfectly positioned to deal with Goodison’s firm header from Paul McLaren’s corner.
Tranmere boss Les Parry introduced Chris Shuker and Terry Gornell, but still his side struggled to make an impression as Town continued to push.
Pilkington was the next to come close, cutting in from the right touchline to test Daniels with a low drive.
Then hat-trick chasing Novak was twice denied in as many minutes.
Daniels parried his effort from Rhodes’ pass, then used his body to block another fiercely-struck drive.
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