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Striker pulls Rank as Bulls join Shots party

Former Shot Michael Rankine scored a dramatic winner against his old club to help Hereford United escape relegation in a carnival atmosphere at the ESS Stadium

Michael Rankine scored a dramatic late winner to help Hereford United escape relegation at the home of his former club

Michael Rankine admitted to reliving the pain of last year's relegation with Aldershot Town before securing Hereford United's Skrill Premier future amid a dramatic finale at the ESS Stadium.

The target man, returning to the club where he suffered a heartbreaking drop from the Football League 12 months ago, was staring through the trapdoor yet again before popping up with an 87th-minute winner to seal three precious points for the cash-strapped Bulls.

And it proved absolutely crucial for Peter Beadle's men when news filtered through of Jamie White's late equaliser for Salisbury at Chester, ensuring that both clubs stayed up by virtue of goal difference.

“It's gone from being the worst season to the best in a matter of seconds,” said Rankine, who celebrated with 800 joyous travelling fans afterwards. “It's an amazing feeling that Aldershot and Hereford are both staying up. I couldn't ask for anything more and hopefully both go on to build from this.

“It was a tough season here last season, and it's been just as tough this year, but it's only making me stronger.

“When we conceded the equaliser I thought 'here we go again' but we've shown determination and grit all season and we got our reward.”

With safety all but secured with their 2-1 win at rivals Woking on Easter Monday, Aldershot's end-of-season party was never in danger of being pooped, merely added to by the fans, players and coaches of a club who face a long, arduous summer of off-field battles, not too dissimilar to the darkened days that loomed over these parts 12 months ago.

Perhaps key to Hereford's survival both on and off the field is young starlet Jarrod Bowen.

The 17-year-old attacking midfielder scored his first senior goal against Alfreton on Monday and was the focus of a number of top scouts, including Premier League big guns Tottenham Hotspur.

Indeed, his bright start kept alert not only his admirers but also Aldershot keeper Glenn Morris, who got down to save an early effort with his legs as the Bulls charged early.

Aldershot, though, came through their own test of character at Woking on Monday and showed they weren't ready to lie down with Manny Oyeleke firing just wide with a 22-yard effort and Mark Molesley curling another just the wrong side of the upright.

But just when news of Chester's early lead threatened to dampen their high spirits, they were sent into raptures when they took a 27th-minute lead. Jamie Edge's low corner from the left wasn't dealt with by the Aldershot defence, Frankie Artus' effort was cleared on the line and Sam Smith was on hand to tap home from three yards out.

Salisbury's equaliser at the Deva Stadium made the half-time cuppa taste all the better for the travelling fans – and it almost got even sweeter five minutes into the re-start when Luke Graham headed home Artus' free-kick from the right, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside.

Bowen could, and should, have doubled the lead when latching onto Glenn Morris' weak headed clearance only to be thwarted by the back-tracking keeper and blazing the loose ball over the bar.

Chants of “two-one to the Chester boys” from the home contingent, however, soon silenced the visitors – their nerves not helped either by two near misses from Adam Mekki and a Mark Phillips header which glanced just wide. Hereford were on their last legs.

And finally, with 15 minutes to go, their luck ran out. Good work from Mekki and Molesley down the left channel saw the ball run to Oyeleke, who thundered the ball home from 22 yards inside the near post.

But just when they looked down and out, they hit back with a bolt from the blue. Substitute Dan Walker broke down the right, cut in and centred for Michael Rankine to tap home from six yards.

Within seconds, news filtered through of White's late equaliser came and the Bulls saw out a nervy final few minutes to seal a famous escape act.

“Fair play to them, “ congratulated Shots boss Andy Scott, just mightily relieved not to be involved in a final-day slugfest. “We knew their situation and they battled right to the end for their club.

“No-one wants to see clubs get relegated and lose their livelihoods but they've managed to stay up so good for them.”

“We were a bit emotionally drained from staying up last weekend and a bit flat today. We tried to get a lift from the fans and got back into the game but didn't pass the ball the way we can and gave away a really sloppy goal.

“It's been a pressure cooker for us throughout the whole season so to say we stayed up at Woking...I think the fans will be happy with that.”

Aldershot: Morris; Tonkin, Phillips, Oastler, Barker (Roberts 78); Molesley (Rowlands 88), Stanley, Oyeleke, Mekki (Bubb 84); Williams, Scott. Subs: Paterson, L Williams.

Ref: Peter Bankes. Att: 3,593 (792).

 

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