A SECOND-HALF hat- trick by GM Vauxhall Conference leading marksman Geoff Horsfield brought Hereford back down to earth after their FA Cup success over Brighton the previous week. Horsfield's goals, his third treble of a season which has already seen him on the mark 20 times, proved the difference between the sides in a game where the gulf was much less conclusive then the scoreline suggests.

Even Halifax manager George Mulhall was moved to say that it was the toughest game his league leaders had played so far. The game hinged on two incidents involving the woodwork either side of half-time.

United's leading scorer Neil Grayson let fly with a low drive from the edge of the box in the 38th minute. The ball eluded home goalkeeper Lee Martin but struck the inside of the post and bounced back into the keeper's arms. Nineteen minutes into the second half Jamie Paterson, the only survivor on either side of the game four seasons ago which condemned Halifax to the Conference, powered in a 20-yarder which hit the same post but rebounded to Horsfield who could not miss from six yards.

The first half provided plenty of entertainment with both sides putting together some good moves. Horsfield and Darren Lyons constantly threatened the Bulls' defence but, at the other end, James McCue, on his full debut, and Grayson also caused problems, Grayson missing the best opportunity when he headed a Rob Warner cross straight at Martin.

Hereford hit back strongly after Horsfield's opener and twice were unlucky to be denied a penalty, first for a blatant hand ball and then, immediately afterwards, when Chris Hargreaves was bundled over in the area. They also missed a great chance to draw level after 71 minutes when a fine ball from Jamie Pitman sent Gavin Mahon away.

The midfielder's shot was beaten out by Martin to Murray Fishlock whose powerful 20-yarder was booted off the line by Jamie Murphy only as far as Grayson. But United's top marksman fired over from a great position. Two minutes later, Horsfield, looking suspiciously off-side, moved on to a through ball from Lyons to score his second and the game was over as a contest, with all that remained being for Horsfield to complete his hat-trick with an individual effort two minutes from the end.

Fishlock and Brian McGorry received yellow cards for fouls. But the most unusual statistic in a game with much attacking football was that there were just two corners, one to each side, and Hereford's did not come until the last minute.

Hereford: Quy, Warner (sub Cook 78 mins), Fishlock, Pitman, Brough, Walker, Hargreaves, McGorry, Grayson, McCue (sub Foster 67 mins), Mahon. Sub not used: Downing.

Attendance: 2,214.