After 25 years in the lower divisions, Hereford are down into the GM Vauxhall Conference - a league whose increasing strength makes the romance of an instant return unlikely.
Nevertheless Hereford played valiantly yesterday and took what promised to be a vital lead through a cruel own-goal. But a Brighton equaliser from Robbie Reinelt, just eight minutes after he had come on as substitute, proved an insurmountable hurdle for the home side - many of whom left the pitch in tears at the realisation of their fate.
For Brighton, who brought close to 3,500 fans with them - truly a flock of Seagulls - the game completed a remarkable escape generated since the appointment of Steve Gritt as manager last December.
"I was glad when the game started after all the hype," a breathless Gritt said afterwards "But I wouldn't want to go through all that again."
For his Hereford counterpart Graham Turner, the day was too much to bear. Later, with the ground now deserted, he quietly announced his intention to offer his resignation. "I have to take responsibility for what's happened here over the season. I've just been into the dressing-room and it's awful in there. But that's football I suppose."
Hereford's tenure on the league had looked secure for the first hour as their powerful three-man attack of Tony Agana, John Williams and 18- goal top-scorer Adrian Foster put the Brighton defence under constant pressure.
Their enterprise in the context of a brutally tense occasion was almost heroic although the circumstances of their goal were a perverse form of divine intervention. Agana wrestled free inside the Brighton box and was able to turn the ball across the face of the goal, where Foster was waiting but Brighton's Kerry Mayo stuck out a foot to send the ball into his own net.
The young midfielder fell face down on the turf so abject was his misery and a suddenly nervous Brighton did well to complete the half without conceding the second goal that would have done for them. But as the clock ticked on towards the drop zone Hereford's energy drained away while Brighton were urged on by their increasingly frantic travelling support.
A poor goal-kick by the Hereford keeper Andy de Bont set up the Brighton equaliser with Craig Maskell's volley rebounding from the post for Reinelt to tap home.
Chances opened up at either end but Hereford had the best in injury-time when Foster was put clean through but could only drive his shot straight into the relieved hands of Mark Ormerod. The Hereford fans slumped in despair.
At the final whistle a huge line of riot police occupied the pitch to prevent a wedge of home fans from getting to the Brighton end. But there seemed little malice left in these melancholy supporters, who were applauded sympathetically by their Brighton counterparts, fans who know only too well that the misery could have been theirs.Reuse content