TRANMERE could not avoid putting Prenton Park through an ordeal of nail-chewing anxiety before finally escaping from a six-month detention in League One’s condemned cell.
For more than three quarters of a bright February afternoon, Rovers suggested they might engineer the breakout without difficulty or alarm.
But that would have been out of character and expecting too much of a team who have been inching towards the exit door from the relegation places ever since long-serving physio Les Parry took charge of team affairs back in October.
The comfortable 2-0 lead Tranmere held at half-time became a precarious advantage after Leyton Orient substitute Jonathan Tehoue pulled a goal back on 86 minutes.
The final eight minutes of football, as the hosts clung on desperately to protect the three points were, as Parry put it himself, the stuff of heart attacks.
The drama was played out to a soundtrack of whistles from home supporters who wanted referee David Foster to call a premature halt to proceedings.
A heart-stopping moment arrived on 89 minutes when Jason Demetrou looked like he would steal Tranmere’s precious success away from them with a fierce 22-yard shot heading towards the top corner – only for goalkeeper Luke Daniels to leap to the rescue with a fingertip save that showcased his excellent reflexes and agility.
The victory lifted Rovers to the giddy heights of 17th place in the table and into the heart of a traffic jam of clubs crammed just above the drop zone.
The air will nevertheless taste fresh this morning for a club who fell into the bottom four after a defeat at Leeds back on August 22 and had remained there ever since.
The first 45 minutes of football showed why current form marks Tranmere as a team with no business being in the relegation places.
They were bright, enterprising and able to dominate an Orient side who came into the contest on a run of six unbeaten games.
Building from the platform of a solid defensive base anchored by Ian Goodison, Tranmere permitted the visitors precious little opportunity going forward and seized the initiative with well-struck goals from front men Ian Thomas-Moore on 28 minutes and Marvin Sordell on 35.
Thomas-Moore’s crisp, low effort into the bottom corner, after he cleverly made a shooting position on the left-hand edge of the box, was too accurate for goalkeeper Jamie Jones.
Sordell shot into the same corner of the net from a similar distance, following a fortunate break of the ball after midfielder John Welsh made a probing run from the right.
At that point Rovers looked capable of putting the game beyond the Londoners’ reach as Paul McLaren, Gareth Edds and Welsh bossed the midfield. Teenager Sordell, making the fourth appearance of his loan spell from Watford, produce moments of invention that troubled the visiting defenders.
Luke O’Neill, another 18-year-old loan signing playing at right-back in place of the suspended Shaleum Logan, betrayed no signs of debut nerves in an accomplished performance.
However, the signs of the alarms to come were evident in the closing minutes of the first half when Orient began to pose an attacking threat for the first time.
Front man Ryan Jarvis twice escape the attentions of Tranmere’s centre-backs to fire in shots from the edge of the box. One was wide of the target, the other forced a sharp save from Daniels.
The introduction of James Scowcroft and Tehoue on 53 minutes added some extra strength and bite to the Orient attack.
Midfielder Sean Thornton was a casualty of the reshuffle and was clearly unhappy to make an early exit from the action on the ground where he started his career but fell out with local sentiment because of a messy move to Sunderland.
Tranmere meanwhile betrayed their intention to drop deep in order to protect the lead rather than build on it. The die was cast.
Charlie Daniels drove a free-kick narrowly wide of the target on 66 minutes and the visitors made strong appeals for a penalty when Goodison, falling awkwardly, appeared to handle accidentally just inside the box.
When Scowcroft, taking Tehoue’s pass into the box on 80 minutes, guided a 15-yard shot towards the bottom left-hand corner, Daniels had to go full stretch to save.
Tehoue should have found the target two minutes later when Scowcroft turned provider but lifted a good chance over from 10 yards.
So Orient’s goal was no surprise when it arrived. The mounting nervousness in the Tranmere back-line was evident as Marlon Broomes sliced a hurried clearance to Tehoue, whose aim this time was hard and true in finding the net. Daniel’s save from Demetrou, following a free-kick on the edge of the box, turned out to the Orient’s last chance.