Hereford United's unbeaten run of seven Nationwide League Third Division matches shuddered to a halt with defeat on Saturday by fellow strugglers Exeter City, who moved above them in the table.

Exeter's victory, only their second in 11 Football League visits to Edgar Street, plunged United right back into the relegation mire in 22nd position with only two teams below them.

They have a four-point advantage over bottom club Brighton and are three points clear of Doncaster, who have two games in hand. Four of the matches in The Bulls' undefeated sequence were draws so they went into Saturday's game badly needing a win to open up a bigger gap on Brighton. Playing against a stiff wind in the first half, they looked well placed to do just that when John Williams' 41st-minute goal gave them a 1-0 interval lead.

But they failed to produce the necessary fire or passion in a stuttering second-half display, while Exeter diligently applied the urgency they needed to get back into the game. United director of football Graham Turner admitted: ''We should have gone out and penned them in their half after the interval. But we didn't and they outfought and outplayed us.'' Exeter manager Peter Fox agreed, saying: ''To a man our players were brilliant. We had to battle and definitely deserved the points.''

The one bright spot for United was a highly-promising Football League debut by 18-year-old YTS youngster Roy Jordan. He set up Williams' goal, fired in a couple of testing shots and also hit the woodwork. He and Ian Foster were drafted into the side as replacements for Chris Hargreaves and Adrian Foster. Hargreaves was ruled out when his knee injury, sustained against Cardiff, flared up again, while Adrian Foster cried off because his wife was in labour.

Turner said: ''The first I heard from Adrian Foster was a message I received on Saturday morning. It would have been nice to have known earlier so that I could have devised contingency plans.'' United were further handicapped as keeper Trevor Wood was nursing an ankle injury which prevented him taking goal kicks. Turner had no alternative but to play him as his other two keepers, Andy Debont and Chris MacKenzie, are on the injured list.

With the benefit of the wind Exeter held territorial supremacy in the first half. Nevertheless, Wood had only one difficult save to make, taking a shot from Glen Crowe, on loan form Wolves, low down. At the other end Williams surged into the penalty box and forced Ashley Bayes to bring off a fine save from his fierce drive. In the 41st minute, however, Bayes was beaten. Jordan found Williams with a superb crossfield pass for the striker to race through.

Seven minutes into the second period the Grecians drew level when Noel Blake scrambled Jason Rees' corner over the line at the far post. The ball was cleared and the ball bounced off Lee Baddelley into the net. Manchester referee Eddie Lomas credited the goal to Baddelley but Blake claimed: ''It was my goal and was definitely over.'' Three minutes later Jordan fired in a shot which Bayes did well to save but in the 73rd minute Rees pushed a pass to Crowe, who drove in the winner with some of United's players claiming he was offside.

In the closing minutes Bayes excelled, diving to his right to push away Jordan's vicious piledriver and the youngster then saw another effort strike the woodwork. One Hereford player was booked -- Keith Downing for a foul.

Hereford United: Wood, Norton. Smith, Matthewson, Fishlock, Warner (Cook 81 min), Beeston, Downing (Pitman 81 min), Jordan, Williams, Ian Foster. Substitute not used: Brough.

Attendance: 2,735.