Conference runners-up for three consecutive seasons, Hereford United gained reward for their persistence when an extra-time goal from the defender Ryan Green clinched a return to the Football League after a drama-packed Conference play-off final here yesterday.
Halifax, who finished the regular season in fourth place behind the champions, Accrington Stanley, led twice in normal time through Lewis Killeen and substitute John Grant, but were pegged back by Andy Williams and Hereford substitute Guy Ipuoa, whose 79th-minute header took a gripping contest into extra time.
A penalty shoot-out looked the likeliest conclusion after a cagey period of extra time, but then Welsh international Green seized on a loose ball to beat Halifax goalkeeper Jon Kennedy with a looping diagonal shot from just inside the penalty area, ending a nine-year League exile for Graham Turner's club.
Halifax, attempting to become the first side to win back their Football League status twice, had made the more positive start and might have gone ahead after five minutes had the referee, Dean Whitestone, spotted a clear handball by the Hereford captain, Tamika Mkandawire.
Wayne Brown kept out a shot from Greg Young, but there was little the Hereford goalkeeper could do to repel Killeen's superb strike from 25 yards in the 27th minute. The Hereford winger Rob Purdie was receiving attention off the field at the moment they fell behind, but their response was powerful. Their top scorer, Andy Williams, put them back on terms after 34 minutes with an adroit header from a deep cross by his co-striker Adam Stansfield. It took a good save from Kennedy to deny Hereford the lead when Purdie got his head to a Green cross.
Hereford began the second half well, Kennedy saving with his feet from Stansfield and Williams heading wide from close range. In between, Purdie looked to have a case for a penalty after Tyrone Thompson appeared to bring him down. But Halifax stole the lead again after 73 minutes as Grant applied the finishing touch following a surging run by Killeen.
Hereford were not finished andIpoua - whose extra-time winner against Morecambe clinched a place in the final - levelled the scores with a thumping header from a Simon Travis cross. With legs tiring, a goalless extra 30 minutes would have been no surprise but when a tackle on team-mate Stuart Fleetwood sent the ball spinning his way, Green made the most of his chance to break Halifax hearts.