ANXIOUS and vulnerable Notts County could hardly have asked for more accommodating opponents than Tranmere as they broke out of the worst start to a league season in their 151-year history.
Hammered 5-1 by leaders Leyton Orient in midweek and bruised by talk among fans of protests and boycotts, the Magpies desperately needed to find some release from the pressure.
Rovers obligingly provided it, offering the home team a happy half-hour in which they were given the time and space to play some attacking football, score a goal, build some confidence and get the fans behind them instead of on their backs.
By the time the visitors put some focus and energy into their own football, County had established a platform on which they built the first league win of the campaign, moving them off the bottom of the table.
It was a puzzling performance from Tranmere. The relaxed approach of the first 30 minutes did not fit with the needs of their own predicament, hardly healthy with five points on the board. Nor was it the kind of effort you associate with Ronnie Moore's track record and reputation. The manager said the players knew the importance of being fast out of the blocks, to make life as difficult for the opposition and to crank up the frustration levels among the home crowd.
As it was, during that important early phase, Tranmere generated about as much intensity as you would find in a holiday camp five-a-side match.
They allowed County's midfielders to dictate, and the wide attackers and overlapping full-backs to expose the visitors' weaknesses down the flanks.
Jack Grealish, an impish 18-year-old winger on loan from Aston Villa, was particularly troublesome during the first hour of the contest.
Right-back Tom Hateley, who signed a four-month contract with Tranmere ahead of the game, doubtless wished he wasn't so short of match fitness and sharpness in attempting to deal with a quick and tricky opponent like Grealish.
Joss Labadie, a midfielder who spent a couple of seasons with Tranmere prior to moving to Meadow Lane in the summer of 2012, showed he has not lost the knack of scoring goals from midfield.
His seventh minute header lifted the mood in the ground and exposed once again Tranmere's vulnerability to balls whipped in from the flanks.
Not for the first time Rovers needed some strong words at half-time to lift and direct their efforts in a more purposeful direction.
Upping the tempo and the work-rate at least forced the Magpies onto the back foot. A change of formation to a conventional 4-4-2, made early in the second half when James Rowe and the ineffective winger Joe Thompson were withdrawn, also helped to inject a little extra conviction into Rovers' attacking play.
The tenacious Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, who spared no effort as a front runner, was a threat when switched to the flanks. Had the Frenchman's 74th-minute header dropped into the net instead of hitting the crossbar, the tide the game might have turned for Tranmere.
Instead the contest was settled five minutes later by a second County goal, scored by substitute Marcus Haber. It stemmed from an inexplicable error from goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams, who threw the ball straight to the feet of Grealish.
The celebrations of the home players were a signal for some of the thin contingent of travelling fans to make an early move for the exits.
Less than a year ago more than double the number of Tranmere fans filled the same part of the Jimmy Sirrel Stand to watch Ronnie Moore's table toppers post a compelling 1-0 win. Only three of those players started on Saturday.
Starting games slowly is one problem for the current side, conceding early goals another. They were two down in 14 minutes to Brentford the previous weekend and went behind here to County's first menacing attack.
The move was well worked. Left-back Alan Sheehan was played into space down the flank to sweep a cross deep beyond the far post, Danny Haynes knocked it back into the goalmouth and Labadie planted a header into the top corner from close range.
A familiar pattern of errors and mishaps dogged Tranmere. Ian Goodison's decision to duck beneath a long clearance allowed Grealish to run clear through the inside left channel and drag a shot wide of the left hand post in the 31st minute.
By that point Tranmere fans were trying to raise their team and got some response, with Max Power driving forward for a 25-yard shot that was well covered by Bartosz Bialkowski. Then Akpa Akpro directed a header straight at the keeper.
County could have doubled their lead on 52 minutes when Danny Haynes ran clear onto a 50-yard through pass from Andre Boucaud. Fon Williams got a hand to the striker's shot which looped into the air and dropped against the outside of the left-hand post.
At the other and Akpa Akpro attempted an overhead kick from a right wing cross by substitute Abdulai Baggie when a straightforward header might have served him better.
Akpa Akpro's frustration when his looping header from a Power cross struck the woodwork was compounded in the 79th minute by the calamity of the second goal.
Fon Williams' errant throw allowed Grealish a clear run at goal from 10 yards outside the box. The keeper made a blocking save from the shot but Tranmere could not get the rebound away. County worked the ball out to right-back Mustafa Dumbuya who got behind the defender and whipped in a low cross for Haber to convert at close range.
It could have been worse for Tranmere. In injury time Labadie ran beyond the left side of the visitors' defence yet again and Fon Williams had to make a desperate save to prevent Habor from adding a third goal.