Jordan Bowery scored the vital goal 15 minutes from time to give Chesterfield a desperately needed win that lifted them off the foot of the table.
The 20-year-old striker hit his eighth goal of the season at a time when the home fans were beginning to show their frustration.
Rovers, without a win in 2012, had been stubborn opponents. They’d created a few threats but rarely looked like getting their noses in front.
The Spireites’ opportunities had been more numerous but generally were less than gilt-edged. When John Sheridan withdrew Nicky Ajose to be replaced by Alex Mendy, many in the crowd chorused ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’, aimed at the manager.
Afterwards Sheridan, clearly agitated, said: “I think they want to get frustrated don’t they. I’m making a decision for the benefit of the team not because Ajose’s the worst player on the pitch, but some know better than me.
“I’ll stick to my decision, I’m not frightened of making a decision; they can say what they want to me. Danny Whitaker set the winning goal up, that’s who they wanted me to take off and he set the winning goal up.”
Indeed Whitaker’s ball in from the left to Jack Lester was then played on to Bowery, marked tightly by Dave Buchanan. He looked to have missed his chance to shoot but managed to left-foot the ball home with less than full power.
The scorer, who’d bagged two against Rovers in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in November said: “Whits did well to pass to Jack and then Jack played a great ball to me and it got stuck in my feet.
“I had to get it out, shoot and hope for the best and thankfully it went under the keeper.”
The relief was palpable as the goal lifted the team two places and dragged Rovers into the relegation mix.
Sheridan made two changes to the team that had been hammered by leaders Charlton. Drew Talbot returned after injury, replacing Simon Ford, while Whitaker replaced Craig Westcarr, who was on the bench.
The game started slowly. Clearly both sets of players were trying to avoid any catastrophic errors in a contest of such importance. Home fans regarded it as a ‘must win’ game while the visitors will have viewed it as a ‘mustn’t lose’ fixture.
The players probably had similar feelings.
The Spireites moved up a notch after the break but chances remained at a premium.
The goal changed the game and, a few set-plays apart, an equaliser never looked likely.
Sheridan concluded: “It was a tough game and I expected that from Tranmere, they’re a difficult team to play against, they don’t concede many goals.
Chesterfield: Lee 7, Talbot 6, Trotman 7, Thompson 6, Ridehalgh 6, Ajose 6 (Mendy 70, 6), Davis 8, Allott 7, Whitaker 6, Lester 6 (Westcarr 90), Bowery 7. Subs (not used): Fleming, Niven, Smith
Tranmere: fon Williams 7, Holmes 6, Goodison 8, Taylor 6, Buchanan 6, Devaney 6 (Weir 46, 5), Welsh 8, Wallace 5, McGurk 7 (Bakayogo 76), Robinson 5, Brunt 5 (Showunmi 59, 6). Subs (not used): Coughlin, McChrystal
Goal: Bowery 75.
Referee: Dean Whitestone (Northants).
Bookings: Davis (Chesterfield); Wallace (Tranmere).