OUT with the new and in with the old. Hartlepool United, after ending 2012 with their best victory of the year, started 2013 on a familiar footing with a home defeat.
Pools lost at Victoria Park for the fifth time in a row and for the eighth time this season.
The hope and belief taken from Saturday’s surprising win at Sheffield United was gone in 90 frustrating minutes against Preston.
The opposition had gone nine games in League One without a win. But, once again, Pools were unable to break down well-drilled and organised visitors.
Pools have only scored eight goals in 12 games at Victoria Park this season, six times they have failed to notch.
It wasn’t until deep into stoppage time yesterday that they really threatened - goalkeeper Scott Flinders a possible scorer in a frantic goalmouth scramble.
But it was too little and far too late and the manner in which they conceded the game’s only goal, a free header from a corner in first-half stoppage time, two minutes after Scott Flinders saved a penalty, frustrated John Hughes.
“It just didn’t go for us. It was disappointing in the way we conceded the goal,’’ he said. “Scotty made a great save from the penalty, then we give away a corner and they score from it – very disappointing.
“It would be nice if we were beaten by something good, some well-worked goal – even as a coach, as a fan or player.
“We beat ourselves, it’s fundamental things and you have to make sure you are hard to break down and don’t give anything to the opposition.
“It’s bitterly disappointing the manner in which we gave the set-piece and goal away.’’ Antony Sweeney latched onto an early Jon Franks pass, but his low effort aimed toward the near post was easily saved.
Then Steve Howard’s effort at the far post was frustratingly blocked by John Mousinho.
The Lillywhites, managed by the loathsome Graham Westley, won a penalty two minutes before the break.
Pools lost possession in midfield when Simon Walton’s short pass was cut out.
The midfielder was impressive at Bramall Lane but, like so many of his teammates, failed on this occasion to match that standard.
Walton was substituted early in the second half with injury and headed to the dressing room for treatment.
Peter Hartley tripped Stuart Beavon in the area and, while Nicky Wroe fired his spot-kick firmly enough, Flinders dived high to his left to make a fine stop.
There was no lift from the save, however and Pools were soon behind.
They conceded a slack corner, and from the set-piece, Ritchie Humphreys lost his man and Mousinho stole into space at the far post to head in low through the legs of Flinders.
Two minutes after the break, Evan Horwood’s cross into the area was there to be met. Sweeney got there, but got under the ball to head over the bar. Howard was behind him when Saturday’s two-goal scorer was a better option.
It was reminiscent of their last home game with Stevenage when three players – Sweeney and Howard included – went to attack the same ball in front of goal.
Pools didn’t create enough pressure in the second half when they trailed. Confidence is a debilitating trait and, when they fall behind, it’s hard to see them coming back from the blow.
They have, this season, taken only two points from a losing position. It wasn’t until injury time when they did threaten.
Luke James had a stinging low shot pushed out by Steve Simonsen. Scott Flinders went up for the corner, in the hope of replicating his goalscoring heroics of 2009.
He went close, meeting the corner as Pools were denied by a pack of pink shirts in the six yard box.
“It was very unfortunate we didn’t get an equaliser – we don’t get anything falling for us in the area,’’ mused Hughes.
“First-half the ball takes a ricochet and bounces wide instead of falling for us, second- half Sweens gets in there for a header and puts it over from close range – who is right behind him? Steve Howard, if he left it, it’s in the back of the net. That’s football for you.
The spirit and effort is not in doubt.’’
- Middlesbrough’s Matty Dolan has returned to the North-East suffering from tonsillitis, which has put Yeovil’s hopes of signing him on loan on hold. Hughes is still hoping to tie up a deal for Boro’s under-21 captain.