ANOTHER home GM Vauxhall Conference flop has left Hereford's hopes of an immediate return to the Football League more of a mirage than a possibility.

Saturday's defeat by Dover was their third in nine games at Edgar Street from which they have taken only 12 points. They trail leaders Halifax Town, who have a game in hand, by 16 points and will need a phenomenal improvement in form, together with an adverse run by the pacemakers, to get back into contention. United director of football Graham Turner said: ''As long as it is possible for us to take the title we have to believe we can.''

Nevertheless, looking to Saturday's FA Cup tie at Colchester, he admitted: ''It becomes another big occasion for us and we need a good result to keep our season alive.'' Last week Turner declared Edgar Street had to become a formidable fortress for oppponents if the Bulls were to make an impact in the Conference. It certainly did not get a battering from Dover. In fact, the Kent club breached it just twice but that was enough for them to steal the points.

The visitors' first clear-cut opportunity came in the 62nd minute when Lee McRobert latched on to a rare error by Gavin Mahon but, fortunately for the central defender, shot wide when it looked easier to score. Four minutes later McRobert, who had held his head in anguish, made amends. United failed to clear their lines on a couple of occasions during a penalty-area scramble and Phil Barber crossed from the left when Jamie Pitman failed to get in a decisive tackle. Keeper Andy Quy tried to punch the ball away but it fell to McRobert and this time he netted from 10 yards.

Afterwards Turner commented: ''There is a degree of honesty in the team and they try to do the right things. But the essence of a good side is to keep a clean sheet and we are being punished for our mistakes. And when Neil Grayson doesn't score, who will? ''

Ironically it was Grayson, top marksman this season with 11 goals, who squandered a gilt-edged chance to equalise in then 80th minute, two minutes after Dover had been reduced to 10 men with the sending off of defender Jake Leberi for a second bookable offence. Substitute Paul Wilson brought down Mahon and Huntingdon referee Roger Coxhead had no hesitation in awarding a penalty. But Grayson, whose Meadow End penalty won last month's FA Cup tie against Brighton, this time fired high over the bar.

For the most part it was a familiar United story as they enjoyed bags of possession. But possession counts for little if it is not supplemented by a final searching pass or ruthlessness and bite in and around the penalty area. Over-reliance on long, high passes also makes defending a predictable task for opponents.

Certainly, particularly in the early stages, Murray Fishlock and Rob Warner got in a number of crosses from the left which went begging, while Chris Hargreaves fired a couple of efforts wide of the far post. But visiting keeper Martin Davies was not unduly tested except when he had to knock the ball off James McCue's feet. It ran to Pitman who took a pot at the empty goal but Gary Stebbing managed to charge it down.

The nearest United came to scoring was in the 56th minute, following a Fishlock corner, when Grayson's header was cleared off the line by Stebbing.

Hereford: Quy, Rodgerson, Mahon, Walker, Fishlock, Pitman (Cook 70 minute), McGorry, Warner, Hargreaves, Grayson, McCue (Brough 70 min). Substitute not used: Norton.

Attendance: 2,147.