A tired-looking Daggers side fell to a disappointing defeat at Prenton Park on Saturday to leave their fight for survival hanging in the balance going into the final four matches of the season, writes Ricky Butler.
Facing their ninth game in four weeks John Still's side certainly looked to be feeling the effects of such a gruelling schedule in a below-par first half display which ultimately proved decisive.
As expected the Daggers side showed no changes from the thrilling midweek defeat at Brighton, despite several of the squad suffering the after-effects of a virus, and they rather unsurprisingly looked off the pace in the opening exchanges. Rovers top scorer Enoch Showunmi had already seen an early effort disallowed, after defender Ian Goodison had handled in the build up, when he rose to powerfully head home a lovely left-wing cross from Aaron Cresswell after just 12 minutes to give the hosts a perfect start.
The Daggers were struggling to make any attacking impact and Les Parry's side, who began the day just two points above the Daggers, were close to a second midway through the half. Joss Labadie linked well with the dangerous Showunmi but shot narrowly over the crossbar from 20 yards, while just moments later only a great last ditch challenge from Scott Doe prevented Robbie Weir breaking through on goal.
But it was the height and strength of Showunmi and Goodison that was causing the main threat so it was no real surprise when Goodison doubled the hosts lead ten minutes before the break. A superb free kick from the left by Labadie found the head of the big defender at the far post and he glanced the ball past Roberts from close range to put Rovers in control.
Still was immediately forced to make a change as in-form striker John Akinde was clearly struggling with illness and had to be replaced by ex-Rovers striker Bas Savage, who got a great reception from the home fans, but it was Tranmere who should have added to their advantage four minutes before the break. Another great delivery from the right by Cresswell caused panic in the Daggers back-line but thankfully the ball evaded both Showunmi and Goodison at the far post as it bounced harmlessly wide.
Still's side finally began to exert some pressure as the half drew to a close, forcing a series of corners and long throws, but they had only a long range strike from Oliver Lee, which flew way over the crossbar, to show for their efforts at the break.
The Daggers boss made his second change of the day during the interval, bringing on Darren Currie for Lee and pushing Jon Nurse up to partner Savage, and it almost paid instant dividends. Currie sent in a dangerous ball from the left which beat keeper Tony Warner but Green could only turn it into the side netting from a tight angle at the far post within a minute of the resumption.
Currie was clearly making a difference and he came close to giving the Daggers a 52nd minute lifeline. Cutting in from the left he tested Warner with a low drive which the Rovers keeper did well to keep out, while the visitors then had a good penalty shout turned down by referee David Coote after Ash Taylor appeared to handle a cross from Abu Ogogo.
However they were grateful to the official moments later when he booked Labadie for a dive in the area after going down under a challenge from Doe when he could easily have pointed to the spot.
Still replaced the ineffective Green with Cameron Lancaster in one final throw of the dice twenty minutes from time, but only a wonderful save from Roberts prevented Rovers substitute Adam McGurk adding a third with a fine curling free kick from the right-hand edge of the penalty area, while Taylor then somehow fired over from close range following an almighty goalmouth scramble.
If the Daggers were going to get back in the match they needed something special and it very nearly arrived eleven minutes from time. Mark Arber swung over a great ball from the left and Nurse looked odds-on to score as he arrived at pace at the far post, but his first time effort was somehow pushed away by Warner from point-blank range.
Still's side continued to threaten in the closing stages with Romain Vincelot shooting tamely at Warner from 18 yards after linking well with Ogogo, before Lancaster then screwed a free kick wide of the left hand upright, but with other results going their way the Daggers remain one point outside the drop zone going into the final straight.
Assistant manager Terry Harris admitted that the game had been lost in that below-par first half. 'Yes, the damage was done in the first half and we were showing the effects of playing Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday for the last few weeks,' he said.
'There has been a bit of a bug going around the club and John (Akinde) has suffered more then most. We have looked after him over the last few days and he felt okay but it was a tough, physical game and he had to come off.' he added.
'Second half we buckled down and got back into it without really causing them enough problems, although (Tony) Warner made a couple of good saves. But I want to work on the positives really. Yes we lost the game but we know what we have got in our camp, we were a tired side but we'll have a few days off now and get ready for Friday.'
Attendance; 4,562 (190 away)