KABONGO Tshimanga’s stunning hat-trick came seconds away from giving Oxford City a famous victory at Tranmere Rovers.

The striker’s treble saw the Vanarama National South League side lead going into the last minute of normal time in Saturday’s first round tie.

But their Sky Bet League Two rivals snatched a heartbreaking equaliser to force a replay in a thrilling Cup tie.

However, the standing ovation received by the City players from all around the ground at the final whistle spoke volumes about their display.

Mark Jones’s side gradually grew into the game after a slow start which saw City keeper Craig King make a good early save.

Frankie Musonda headed home a Josh Ashby free-kick on 14 minutes, but the visitors’ celebrations were cut short by an offside flag.

Tranmere hit back and went ahead on 34 minutes when City failed to deal with a ball over the top and Connor Jennings scored.

The visitors did not let their heads drop, however, and levelled five minutes later when Joe Oastler’s crunching challenge Steve McNulty 30 yards from the Tranmere goal saw the ball fall perfectly into the path of Tshimanga, who fired home.

Zac McEachran’s effort then whistled inches over the bar as City got on top.

And their dominance continued as they attacked towards their 116 fans after the break, Tshimanga and Oastler both going close.

On 66 minutes though, Tshimanga made no mistake when outpacing two defenders and coolly slotting home.

Rather than sit back and try to defend their lead, City looked for No 3.

McEachran and Sam Nombe combined to wreak havoc down the right wing, the former taking another chance to aim a shot at goal, only to drag his effort just wide.

When the Tranmere equaliser came, it was against the run of play.

City only half-cleared a 78th minute corner, but the ball was delivered back into the box where Jennings planted a header past King to level the scores.

Still undaunted, City were not interested in settling for a draw and quickly got back to their dominance.

And they were back in front within four minutes as Nombe, McEachran and Tshimanga combined for the latter to blast home from point-blank range and complete a hat-trick with eight minutes remaining.

Tranmere threw everybody forward in a bid to try to avoid a Cup giant-killing.

They almost levelled in the 87th minute when Jennings raced through, only to be denied by King.

But just as it looked as though City had done enough, with just one minute of normal time remaining, Tranmere grabbed their lifeline when Norwood found the net.

And although City’s players looked crest-fallen, a replay at Court Place Farm will provide the club with a further financial boost.