HARTLEPOOL United failed to make their first-half superiority pay as Preston North End stole the only goal 14 minutes from time.
The visitors – unbeaten in five going into the game – will look back in rueful mood at a string of openings which went begging inside the opening 45 minutes.
In the end it was a wonder strike which settled it as substitute Danny Mayor blasted home from range late on to seal a first win for new North End boss Graham Westley.
It was, in fact, Preston who bossed possession during the early blows but a mistake from home skipper Andy Procter allowed James Brown the game’s first sight at goal.
He took aim from 25 yards and the bouncing effort had Thorsten Stuckmann worried and the diving German could only parry clear.
Luke James, again the subject of observation from several watching scouts, then came within a whisker of conjuring another breathtaking goal.
Taking an awkward ball in his stride on halfway, the 17-year-old swapped passes with Andy Monkhouse before driving into the area and seeing a left-footed effort drop inches wide with Stuckmann beaten.
It was all Pools and on 20 minutes Stuckmann had to be on his toes to guard against a first-time Tony Sweeney prod which the keeper shinned clear at the near post.
Sweeney again went close six minutes later, the ever-dangerous James locating his team-mate’s brow with a sweeping, right-wing centre but the 12-yard header flashed wide.
Pools, though, were failing to make their dominance pay and James’ 18-yard daisy-cutter was easily gathered by Stuckmann after a promising burst infield from the left.
Half-time arrived with the game still goalless despite the superiority of Neale Cooper’s men.
The second period again saw the boys in maroon enjoy the lion’s share of possession but they struggled to create any openings of note.
Andy Monkhouse had just attempted the most audacious of 40-yard efforts, which dribbled into Stuckmann’s arms, when Cooper shuffled his pack with 15 minutes remaining, Colin Nish and Steve Haslam replacing Paul Murray and James Brown.
But within 10 seconds of their arrival the hosts, with their first effort on goal, had taken the lead.
Wideman Mayor slid infield from the left and dispatched a right-foot rocket from all of 25 yards which whistled straight into Scott Flinders’ top corner.
Pools could have salvaged a point one minute from the end wh