HEREFORD have their eyes set firmly on a top four finish and boast an unbeaten run in 2013 so far and with one of the league’s best defences, writes Adam Knight.

Emerging from the festive period with a clear defensive identity – they rank fourthbest in the league, yet sit ninth in the table – Hereford backed up a narrow loss to league leaders Worcester Wanderers with gritty wins over Stoke and Walsall, where they notched their first clean sheet of the season.

And with coach Mark Harris looking to add a more dynamic breakdown game to his side’s impressive defensive base, a top four finish may well be within reach.

Hereford play seven of their remaining 11 games at home - with two of their away matches, coming against sides in the bottom three.

Defensive guru Bob Stewart says they have set a target of nine wins during that runin.

“Defence is massively important to us,” says Stewart.

“In reality we’re starting again this year as a squad, so you start with defence.

“Everyone’s realising they want to be part of something.

“We want to get that passion back, and we want to get the crowds coming back.

“Confidence is the difference between winning those tight matches, and losing.

Last year we would have lost them. Now we’re aiming for a top four finish.”

With an emerging group of talented youngsters playing a key role in Hereford’s improving performances, the importance of senior players to step up and inspire both that confidence and tough edge cannot be understated.

Skipper Jamie Bullock and front-five forward Ally McColl – who earned man-of -the-match honours for a bruising performance against Walsall – have been central to redefining that identity on the field following relegation last year.

Stewart praises the impact they have had on the first team’s former colts, with hard-hitting James Parker’s recent North Midland’s U20s call-up testament to that.

“We’re more competitive this year,” says Bullock.

“Defence wins games, and everybody’s putting their body on the line. Nobody gives an inch in training.”

Hereford will be hoping that the weather will relent to allow them to host Berkswell & Balsall on Saturday.