NEWPORT County AFC suffered another dose of last-gasp despair courtesy of Connor Jennings after being victims of a Tranmere turnaround in League Two at Prenton Park.

The hosts took the spoils 2-1 in blustery Birkenhead to climb to 21st, boost their survival hopes and close the gap on the 15th-placed Exiles.

County led 1-0 at half-time courtesy of Will Evans’ clinical finish in the 22nd minute, his 14th of a remarkable campaign.

The top scorer was forced off at the break after playing on with a leg twinge suffered when making a slide tackle – hopefully just a precaution ahead of a busy period – and his effort was cancelled out after 56 minutes by Kieron Morris with a deflected strike.

The Exiles lost centre-back James Clarke to injury for the closing stages and lost their point in the 88th minute when Jennings, the Wembley winner when the sides met in the play-off final in 2019, scored from close range.

County headed to Merseyside after a pair of 2-1 wins against Stockport and Morecambe but this one went against them despite no shortage of effort in tricky conditions.

They must now lick their wounds before Tuesday’s FA Cup replay with Barnet and another key clash in the league against Grimsby in Newport on Saturday.

South Wales Argus: Shane McLoughlin battles for the ballShane McLoughlin battles for the ball (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

After naming the same XI for three games on the spin, Graham Coughlan made a solitary change at Prenton Park.

Aaron Wildig, who returned from a back spasm with a 15-minute cameo against Barnet, came in for Scot Bennett, who had started all 20 previous league games.

Kick-off was rolled back by Wildig to Bryn Morris, who promptly shot but failed get the direction or power into a strong wind to trouble Luke McGee.

Tranmere’s Jennings should have tested Nick Townsend in the fifth minute after a simple ball down the right flank released dangerman Rob Apter, but he failed to hit the target with a header.

Rovers then caused problems with a pair of dangerous crosses with Townsend getting a hand to the second, from Apter, to prevent it going through to the waiting Kristian Dennis.

County had a huge chance to hit the front in the 14th minute when Bogle turned his man, worked a yard on his left and forced a fine low save from McGee.

It rebounded straight to Evans, admittedly rapidly, and the top scorer shanked it well wide.

The forward then turned provider to play in Bogle with an excellent pass but the striker failed to get a shot off – was he caught out by the strong wind? – and then went down under slight pressure from Tom Davies, but referee Seb Stockhouse was unmoved.

The official was pointing back to the centre spot in the 22nd minute after the Exiles hit the front with a cracker by Evans.

South Wales Argus:  OPENER: Will Evans gave County the lead but Tranmere fought back for victory OPENER: Will Evans gave County the lead but Tranmere fought back for victory (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

McLoughlin chipped a ball into the box and Wildig nodded it back into the middle, where the forward chested down and smashed a left-footed shot past the helpless McGee.

The Exiles had a half-chance to double the lead in the 33rd minute when Wildig lofted a pass down the right for Seb Palmer-Houlden, who was right to take on the half-volley from an angle but was never close to forcing a save.

Jennings did hit the target after 36 when he curled an effort in from outside the area but Townsend kept his concentration to palm away.

That was followed by an in-swinging corner that was flicked on by Davies, who was trying to set up a teammate but instead hit the top of the bar.

Swiftly down the other end in the 38th minute, Bogle tried his luck from a tight angle and forced McGee into a save with his left boot.

County were on top but were almost caught on the counter at the end of the half but Jennings failed to get his shot off then Kieron Morris was booked for a dive on the edge of the area after jumping over a dangled Evans leg.

The Exiles started the second half with the edge but without their scorer after he failed to recover from an injury suffered when making a tackle, midfielder Harry Charsley his replacement.

The visitors had the first chance five minutes after the restart but Bogle didn’t get a clean connection on a cross by Palmer-Houlden.

Clarke was then booked after a bizarre incident in the 54th minute when the centre-back used one of his strengths, buying a foul from an over-eager attacker.

The assistant who was 10 yards away flagged County’s way, referee Seb Stockbridge went with a Tranmere free-kick that thankfully came to nothing.

However, the hosts did level in the 56th minute when a cross from the left found Morris and his shot on target went in with a deflection off Clarke, who was a couple of yards in front of Townsend.

County, wasteful with the ball, were under pressure and Coughlan made a pre-planned change on 64 minutes that helped keep them level.

Wildig was replaced by Bennett, who came on for a corner and saved the day by stretching on his own line to clear and deny Rovers a second.

Morris almost made it 2-1 to Tranmere with a superb left-footed drive in the 74th minute but it smashed against the crossbar.

That was a wonderful effort that was denied by the woodwork and it was swiftly followed by a freak effort at the other end, Payne’s cross catching the wind and hitting the top of the bar.

The conditions were causing mayhem and County were forced into a change for the finish when Clarke limped off in the 83rd minute, seeming to rub his back, with Matty Bondswell his replacement.

Dennis went down in the box after going shoulder-to-shoulder with Bennett but Mr Stockbridge waved away appeals.

County were handing on but just seconds after Morris hit the left post with another superb effort, Jennings slotted from close range when a deflected shot found him unmarked at the far post.

The Exiles tried to save a point in six minutes of added time but Rovers held firm for the three points.

Tranmere scorers: K Morris, C Jennings.

County: Townsend; Payne, Baker, Clarke (Bondswell 82), Delaney (captain), McLoughlin, Morris, Wildig, Evans (Charsley 45), Bogle, Palmer-Houlden (Wood 90).

Subs not used: Maxted, Waite, Rai.

Yellow: Clarke, Bondswell, Morris.

Goals: Evans.

Referee: Seb Stockbridge.