SLIPSHOD defending cost Hereford two Football Conference points as they conceded an 87th-minute goal to Justin O'Reilly after coming from behind to lead 2-1 at Edgar Street on Monday.

With time running out, the Bulls looked to have secured their third successive Conference home victory until the fatal lapse.

Tim Ryan pumped a speculative clearance into Hereford's half. It caught central defender Tony James out of position and O'Reilly took his chance to hook a shot over keeper Andy Quy into the net.

A disappointed United director of football Graham Turner said: ''At that stage of the game our midfield should not have allowed Ryan to gain possession. After that James got caught square and they scored a goal we should never have allowed.

''We have conceded seven goals in the last three games that's our problem at the moment.''

The Bulls certainly missed experienced central defender Richard Walker, who was on the injured list, and while Mark Taylor acquitted himself well at left-back, Turner would have preferred to have employed his talents in midfield.

United started brightly enough with Gavin Williams prominent in their early attacks. Nevertheless, it was the visitors who struck first in the 29th minute. Quy turned O'Reilly's drive for a corner and Phil Bolland flicked on Brian Butler's corner for Andy Gouck to head in his first goal for the Seasiders.

When United responded Williams just failed to reach a centre from Keith Downing, who was starting a match for the first time for 18 months.

But in the 42nd minute they had better fortune. A neat passing move between Taylor, Downing and Mark Druce ended with Gavin Mahon netting with a perfectly placed ground shot. It was only the second goal Mahon has scored for United the first was two years ago against Rochdale.

In the second period Southport got more shots on target than United but the referee ignored a blatant push on Leadbeater in the penalty area. In the 79th minute Leadbeater interchanged passes with Paul Fewings and beat keeper Billy Stewart with an angled drive from 15 yards. But the jubilant home fans were silenced by O'Reilly's equaliser.

There were two United bookings, Mahon and Garry Cook.

Hereford: Quy, Lane, James, Wright, Taylor, Williams, Mahon, Downing, Fewings, Druce (Cook 67 mins), Leadbeater. Subs not used: Snape, Cross.