HARTLEPOOL United conceded four times for the third match in succession away from home as they crashed to defeat at title favourites Brighton.
Gus Poyet’s men, unbeaten at the Withdean Stadium this season, were good value for their win and moved six points ahead of third-placed Huddersfield Town.
Pools, meanwhile, slipped to 13th in League One but remain six points clear of the relegation zone.
The game’s first opening actually went the way of the visitors on 10 minutes but Colin Larkin’s touch eluded him at the vital moment having been slipped in on goal by Joe Gamble and Casper Ankergren was able to gather.
That chance acted as a wake-up call for the league leaders and Glenn Murray saw namesake Paul, the Pools midfielder, deflect wide his vicious drive just seconds later.
But the breakthrough did arrive on 12 minutes, the nature of its concession clearly angering Pools boss Mick Wadsworth.
A short corner allowed Gary Dicker unforgivable time and space to pick out Chris Wood 12 yards out.
The striker’s shot lacked venom but a mis-communication between Evan Horwood and goalkeeper Scott Flinders saw the ball trickle agonisingly over the line.
Within five minutes that advantage was doubled, Ashley Barnes springing a poorly-executed offside trap before rolling across goal to Murray who applied the close-range finish.
Murray, the former Carlisle United forward, was on a one-man mission to multiply his tally and struck the post and headed narrowly over with Pools crying out for the half-time whistle.
A third home goal was duly netted eight minutes into the second half, however, Craig Noone smashing beyond a helpless Flinders from barely three yards out after Pools had failed to clear from Liam Bridcutt’s flag-kick.
And the goal-thirsty Murray made it four on 56 minutes when he raced onto Gary Dicker’s defence-splitting throughball before tucking confidently into the bottom corner.
Pools did salvage a consolation goal just after the hour mark as Antony Sweeney took his tally for the season to 12 with a close-range hook after Sam Collins had flicked on Steve Haslam’s free-kick.
The game then petered towards an inevitable conclusion with Noone going close when he shaved the base of the post with a 20-yard shot in stoppage time.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Ankergren, Greer, El-Abd, Bennett (Holroyd 85), Barnes (Battipiedi 68), Calderon, Murray, Dicker, Painter, Bridcutt, Wood (Noone 23)
Subs: Brezovan, Elphick, Sandaza, Taricco
Hartlepool United: Flinders, Haslam, Collins, Hartley, Horwood, Gamble (McSweeney 46), Murray (Humphreys 62), Sweeney, Liddle, Monkhouse, Larkin (Brown 46)
Subs: Rafferty, Yantorno, Boyd, Donaldson.