Banbury United slipped to a third straight Evo-Stik Southern League defeat as they lost by a solitary goal against in-form Hereford.
But it took a goal out of the top drawer to sink the Puritans in Tuesday’s premier division clash in front of more than 1,000 fans at the Banbury Plant Hire Community Stadium.
It came from Keyon Reffell and was worthy of winning any game. But that will be of little consolation to United boss Mike Ford who saw his side match Hereford for periods but without really looking like getting back on level terms.
Ford stuck with Ricky Johnson up front alongside Jefferson Louis, meaning Tom Bradbury again partnered Luke Carnell in central defence. Ravi Shamsi made the starting line-up at the expense of Darren Pond who was joined on the bench by Conor McDonagh.
John Mills didn’t take long to have his first effort but he blazed over on the turn while Johnson displayed his worth in the air, winning four consecutive headers against his markers.
But it took a decisive header from Carnell in his own six-yard box to deny Lance Smith as he looked set to score. Shamsi had United’s first chance, all of his own making, robbing James Bowen before going on a typical run but firing well wide from the edge of the box.
The hard-working Shamsi was the architect of United’s best move, picking the ball up and finding Louis who returned the ball into the box where Johnson’s first touch let him down at the crucial moment.
Hereford had the first effort on target when Adam Page shot’s was saved by Jack Harding, the ball ran free for Smith who could only blaze over the bar.
But it was Hereford who broke the deadlock in the 33rd minute with a cracker. Reffell took one touch on the right flank and, as Marvin Martin went to close him down, he rifled a shot past a startled Harding into the far corner of the net from the angle of the box.
United have conceded a few soft goals of late but there was nothing much they could do about a strike like that. It was tough on United who had given as good as they got up to that point.
And just before the break Ford had to replace the injured Johnson, who had impressed up front, with McDonagh. Johnson had occupied both Hereford central defenders who would have been glad to see the back of the United captain.
After the restart, Reffell cut inside before firing over from the edge of the box as Hereford created the only chances in a game of few. United looked to Tom Winters for the best chance to get back on level terms from a 25 yard free-kick, the winger hit it well enough but straight at keeper Martin Horsell.
That free-kick apart, Hereford had United well contained in the final third although the visitors had a scare when Harding’s long free-kick was headed wide by Carnell with Horsell caught out of position.
United proceeded to have their best spell of the second half. Charlie Hawtin’s dangerous low cross deserved better but no-one was there to apply the final touch in the six-yard box.
Hereford went close to doubling their advantage when United failed to clear the initial danger and Jimmy Oates saw his low drive deflected into the side-netting by Harding’s outstretched leg. The game remained in the balance but Hereford showed their experience by seeing it out.
United failed to offer a serious threat in the final third. But, on a positive note, Carnell and Bradbury looked a good pairing and kept the prolific Mills in check at the other end, denying him another goal to add to his growing list.