Tranmere’s promotion charge is well and truly back on track as they put Gateshead to the sword at Prenton Park.
It was often a case of men against boys as Rovers eased to a 3-1 victory that maintains their place in the National League play-off places.
James Norwood grabbed a brace, both from the penalty spot, as he extended his tally for the season to 16.
And although the hosts actually created relatively few chances, this was as comfortable a win as they have had all season.
Indeed, after a minor blip in the middle of February, Gary Brabin’s side now look well and truly capable of extending their season into mid May.
And in this victory, they finally won a game by more than a goal, something they have failed to do since October 17th.
With Jay Harris suspended and Lois Maynard struggling with a groin problem, Brabin named an unchanged side from last week’s 1-0 win over Chester.
That meant Jake Kirby; impressive at the Deva Stadium six days ago, earned just his second league start of the campaign.
Meanwhile, Rovers fans may be forgiven for forgetting one of their former players who returned as part of the Gateshead side.
Danny Johnson was one of a catalogue of loanees signed by Micky Adams during his ill-fated reign last year.
He struggled to impress in his five games though and has since moved to the North East after being released by Cardiff.
The hosts started strongly, looking to take advantage of the fact Gateshead were taken to extra time and penalties in the FA Trophy by Halifax in midweek.
But for all their possession, only one chance was created in the opening 20 minutes, with Norwood taking aim for the far corner but finding ‘keeper Sam Russell in his way.
The visitors though barely got out of their own half, such was Tranmere’s dominance.
Rovers pressed in midfield and it was simply that final ball which was often found wanting.
Liam Ridehalgh had a further chance, scuffing wide of the far post on his weaker right foot after good hold up play by Jeff Hughes, before the breakthrough finally came.
The full-back was once again involved, sweeping a ball beautifully out to Adam Mekki on the right, and his powerful cross was handled by Jon Shaw.
Referee Richard Wigglesworth had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, and Norwood emphatically slammed home the resulting penalty to make it 1-0.
That ought to have taken the pressure off the hosts, who have so often felt the nerves of the Prenton Park crowd after struggling to strike early.
But they were sluggish for the next few minutes, and a sloppy pass from Steve McNulty gave Josh Gillies a shooting chance that Scott Davies saved.
Mekki was proving a real thorn in the side of the visitors though, with his endless energy causing problems as he popped up on both wings.
One run down the left took him into the box, and he was bundled over after dipping past James Curtis.
The referee once again pointed to the spot, and for a second time Norwood gave the ‘keeper no chance as he found the top left corner.
That settled Tranmere down and after the break they started to express themselves.
Kirby and Mekki were providing flashes of skill and brilliance on the wing as Gateshead thwarted several ventures forward.
It was no surprise when the third came and one of the wide men was involved.
Kirby out sprinted his man on the left and picked out a terrific cross that was whipped towards Michael Higdon near the penalty spot.
From there, the target man had the simple task of nodding home to open his account for the club and score Rovers’ first goal from open play in over a month.
Kirby and Norwood saw half chances saved as the hosts went in search of a rare fourth.
Then Mekki had a go with a left-footed drive from 25-yards that forced Russell into a full-stretch save to palm away.
Gateshead were not deterred though and pulled one back when Johnson scored probably the easiest goal of his career.
Davies had made a wonderful double save before the ball bobbled out to the striker, and he bundled into the empty net from 8 yards out.
That gave the visitors a confidence boost, and worryingly Rovers were beginning to sit deeper and deeper.
Davies was called into action shortly afterwards when he clawed away Matty Pattison’s long-range effort as it headed for the top corner.
The hosts weathered the storm though and it was Norwood who came close to adding to the scores with what would have been a sublime goal.
The striker picked up the ball in his own half and went in search of his hat-trick, leaving several defenders in his wake on his way into the penalty area before firing straight at Russell.