HARTLEPOOL United begun 2013 with a lacklustre display as Preston North End ran out 1-0 winners at Victoria Park.
John Hughes had celebrated his first victory in charge of Pools three days earlier following the 3-2 triumph at league leaders Sheffield United.
But they failed to match that performance and barely threatened visiting goalkeeper Steve Simonsen following John Mousinho’s opener in first-half stoppage time, this after Scott Flinders had saved Nicky Wroe’s penalty.
Hughes had rewarded the starting XI at Bramall Lane by naming an unchanged side.
But they made a sluggish opening, Simon Walton hurried out of possession midway inside his own half allowing David Buchanan to scamper forward and test Flinders with a rising drive which the keeper gathered at the second attempt.
Pools’ first moment of excitement did not arrive until the 35th minute, Jordan Richards sweeping a ball to the far post where only the out-stretched boot of Todd Kane denied Steve Howard a tap-in.
The visitors had their chance for the lead when Peter Hartley tripped Stuart Beavon inside the penalty area.
Wroe stepped up but his first side-foot was repelled by the airborne Flinders.
But Flinders was beaten in first-half injury time when Buchanan’s corner was headed through the legs of the home stopper by Mousinho.
John Welsh sought to make it two shortly after half-time and his long-range blast did enough to worry Flinders as it whistled narrowly over the crossbar.
Wroe was looking to make amends for his earlier penalty miss but the midfielder was again denied by Flinders when taking aim towards the bottom corner from 20 yards.
And it wasn’t until the 93rd minute that Luke James tested Simonsen with a low blast which was blocked at the near post.
SEE Wednesday’s Mail for Craig Hope’s match report, analysis, player marks and reaction