Hereford'S clash with Nationwide Conference favourites Cheltenham attracted a gate of 3,480, the biggest attendance of the season to Edgar Street, on Saturday.

But it was the 1,359 away supporters who went home jubilant as the high-flying Robins continued their charge for the title and are two points behind leaders Kettering Town with four games in hand.

The game rarely produced any free-flowing soccer and few goalmouth incidents. But the physically strong Cheltenham side defend well and get the ball quickly to their strikers -- on this occasion Dale Watkins and former Hereford marksman Neil Grayson, both of whom needed careful watching.

In fact, the Robins also fielded three other ex- United players, Richard Walker, John Brough and David Norton. The latter, while still at Edgar Street, announced his retirement just under a year ago, and many of the Bulls' fans gave him a hostile reception now that he has resumed playing after undergoing an operation to rectify a groin injury.

Norton, however, played a crucial role in Cheltenham's second goal in the 84th minute which killed off United's hopes of salvaging a point. He delayed taking a corner to remonstrate with the crowd and there was a long delay before Berkshire referee P Armstrong booked him for time wasting. He responded by directing the flag-kick to defender Jamie Victory who powered in a header past keeper Andy Quy.

The visitors' opening goal resulted from their first threatening attack in the 16th minute. Acting skipper and defender Mark Freeman flicked on Mike Duff's throw-in to Brough whose header struck Quy on the knee. Freeman reacted quickly to squeeze the ball over the line for the Robins' 50th league goal of the campaign.

Hereford's two best scoring efforts came in the 64th minute and injury time. Steven Cowe, their on-loan striker from Swindon Town who was making his Edgar Street debut, drove a shot out of keeper Steve Book's reach but Victory kicked the ball off the line. Later Wright climbed high to plant a header against the bar.

United director of football Graham Turner said: ''Cheltenham are a strong, well-organised side who play without any frills. They look a good bet for the title. I know you should make your own luck but this was a game in which we needed a break or two. On another day Cowe and Wright might well have scored.

''I would have liked to have seen us get the ball down on the ground more but they did not give us much room. The referee was consistent in giving free-kicks for nearly any physical challenge by either side but set pieces situations suited Chelten-ham.''

Two Bulls players, Mark Taylor and Richard Leadbeater, were booked for fouls and Chelten-ham's Watkins, as well as Norton, was also yellow- carded.

Hereford: Quy, Lane, Evans, Wright, James, Parry (Willams 84 mins), Taylor (Cook 64 mins), Downing, Dennison, Leadbeater, Cowe. Subs not used: Shirley.