MICHAEL Rankine has written himself into Hereford United folklore – and believes the Bulls can emerge from the darkness.

The 29-year-old scored the most important goal in United’s history on a rollercoaster day which came within minutes of devastation.

Rankine’s name will forever be synonymous with Hereford’s great escape in a traumatic season which no-one would want to repeat.

He pounced to slot home Hereford’s winner, after an excellent run and cross from Dan Walker, with just two minutes remaining at the Recreation Ground.

And just seconds after Rankine’s strike, Chester, who knew a win against Salisbury would keep them up at the expense of the Bulls, conceded an equaliser.

It was a remarkable twist of fate on a tension-charged day which saw an outpouring of emotion between players and supporters after the final whistle.

Hereford have twice been relegated in heartbreaking fashion on the final day of a season but this time they survived.

“We could not have written a better script – the fans deserved that and we deserved to stay up,” declared Rankine, Hereford’s saviour.

“It’s amazing. This is one of the best feelings in the world. We have come through the dark side and we can now see the light.”

Chris Bush and Sam Smith, who scored Hereford’s first goal, jumped into the crowd to celebrate after Hereford’s safety from relegation had been confirmed.

Inspirational skipper Luke Graham, so often the glue which held United together, wept in front of the 772-strong travelling army.

“I have never cried in my life but I couldn’t help it and I burst into tears because of everything that has gone on,” said Graham.

“Not knowing where the next pay cheque was coming from – has been tough. Trying to keep everyone together was the toughest thing I have done in my life.

“Everyone is emotional because I don’t know of another Conference team who has been through such strain and pressure and stayed up.”

For most of the day it appeared that United would be heading for relegation and perhaps, at worst, extinction.

United’s hopes were bleak when, with Chester leading 2-1, Aldershot drew level with the Bulls through Manny Oyeleke’s 76th-minute strike which bounced in off a post.

But Graham said: “At one point, I thought it might be all over for us. But we kept digging in and refused to believe it and it’s probably the best achievement of my career.

“I have played at Wembley and been promoted but this has been the best achievement in terms of what we have done as a team.”

Earlier, Graham had had a second-half header ruled out for off-side and was instrumental in United’s opening goal after 28 minutes.

His header from Frankie Artus’ corner was blocked on the line and Sam Smith bundled the ball in from close range.

Youngster Jarrod Bowen missed a one-on-one chance in the second half after trying to round the home goalkeeper.

“Thankfully, we got a late goal which saved me,” he said.