Football: Rankine understands the dismay of Rovers faithful; COCA-COLA LEAGUE ONE OLDHAM ATHLETIC v TRANMERE ROVERS, TODAY, 3PM.
THE adrenaline from a strong campaign and a promotion near-miss was still pumping last summer when Mark Rankine decided to give his long-running career one more season with Tranmere Rovers.
The vastly-experienced York-shireman hoped a final campaign might provide a rousing send-off to almost two decades of midfield combat with Doncaster, Wolves, Preston, Sheffield United and Tranmere.
Instead Rankine has found himself back in the football trenches for the past seven months, fighting a battle to keep Rovers out of the League One danger zone.
Rankine admitted: "It is being one of the hardest seasons I can remember, especially following on from last year when everyone was optimistic that we would be pushing in the right direction.
"It hasn't quite happened and it is frustrating. But when you have been in football a long time, you learn you don't always get what you want."
Rankine has the consolation of knowing Tranmere are not alone in their grim predicament this season. The bottom section of the League One table is so congested that every team from 24th up to 10th place is faced with the real danger of relegation.
Tranmere go into this afternoon's encounter with Oldham Athletic in 13th place, but they are only four points above the bottom four.
Rankine admitted: "I don't recall a division as tight as this one and it is having an effect on the type of games we are seeing. Every team is under pressure for results. So they are coming into games determined to give nothing away.
"I think it is likely to stay like this down to the wire."
The visit to Boundary Park brings to mind the words of Old-ham manager Ronnie Moore, who came up with a quote last weekend that catches the essence of the season in League One.
Moore said, after the Latics' 2-0 success at Walsall: " Sometimes you have to win ugly - and we won ugly."
Rankine said: "Ronnie is absolutely right. Sometimes you have to get results by being ugly.
"The gaffer here (Brian Little) often says that as well. We would all like to play good football and win games that way but the opposition does not always let you.
"A lot of teams coming to Pren-ton Park this season have been defensive first and foremost and we are finding it difficult to break them down.
"At the same time we've been successful recently in keeping games tight away from home, getting some good results that way."
Rankine added: "It is a contrast to last season when our football was more free-flowing. We were near the top of the table and everyone was going home happy.
"We have got to be honest with ourselves as players. We have not delivered this year to the standard we should have done."
With more than 700 games under his belt, Rankine knows how to deal with the kind of booing and jeering from the home fans that punctuated Tranmere's 1-0 defeat to Barnsley at Prenton Park last week.
He said: "It affects everyone. When you are older you are better able to shut it out but you would still prefer the crowd to be supporting you in a vocal sense.
"Players have to be strong enough to go out and perform. It's just unfortunate we have not given the supporters what they wanted this season, which is victories at home."
Much of the frustration comes from the fact that Tranmere have often been tantalisingly close to securing the kind of results required to sustain a promotion challenge.
The majority of Tranmere's 11 defeats so far were by the odd goal in marginal contests. And only one team, Bradford City, have drawn more games than Tranmere's 14.
Rankine said: "We have probably lost 12 to 15 points in games where we did not get the result we could or should have done.
"Add them to our total and we will be in the play-off places now."
Rankine tends to agree with the assessment of manager Little that Tranmere's hopes of making the play-offs has now probably died.
He said: "We have 12 games left and we have to go on a very good run to make up the ground.
"The most important thing is to put as many points between ourselves and the bottom four as we can."
We have not given the supporters what they wanted this season
Mark Rankine admits Tranmere have not followed up on the promise of last year's results