Match report: Cardiff City 2 PNE 0
Another poor first-half display proved costly for Preston North End as they went down to defeat against Cardiff City.
For the third game running, they found themselves trailing at half-time but this time Jordan Hugill was not able to produce his rescue act.
At Aston Villa 11 days ago, his two goals earned PNE a 2-2 draw, then his late strike against Ipswich on Saturday saw them grab a 1-1 draw.
You can get away with such generosity to a point but eventually it is going to come back to bite you on the backside.
That was the case in the South Wales rain, goals from Peter Whittingham and Kenneth Zohere scoring in the first 27 minutes giving the Bluebirds their victory.
North End's best chance of a comeback came in a lively first 15 minutes of the second half.
Aiden McGeady, Tom Clarke, Jermaine Beckford and Jordan Hugill all had chances in that spell but could not find the net.
Cardiff stood firm and the closing stages saw plenty of huff and puff but little in the way of late chances for the visitors.
Why PNE have suddenly become slow starters, you can only guess.
From the win over Blackburn on December 10 up to and including the January 14 victory against Brighton, they took the lead in seven of the eight games they played.
North End had started in a 4-4-1-1 system, with McGeady playing behind Jordan Hugill - Paul Gallagher and Daryl Horgan on the wings.
Tyias Browning made his debut at right-back after signing on loan from Everton on Monday.
Cardiff didn't have to work particularly hard for their two goals in the first half, with PNE never particularly getting to grips with them.
Junior Hoilett threatened early on, Clarke's sliding block taking the winger's shot behind for a corner.
McGeady got some joy after quarter of an hour, finding room behind the Cardiff left-back to send a low cross into the middle which skidded across the six-yard box and evaded the out-stretched boot of Hugill.
Cardiff went in front in the 18th minute, Hoilett getting between Browning and Daniel Johnson as he cut into the box from the left-wing.
DJ pulled him back despite him still having work to do to get a shot away, referee Graham Scott pointing to the spot.
Whittingham stepped-up and struck the penalty powerfully to Chris Maxwell's left.
The lead was doubled eight minutes later, Zohere turning Paul Huntington in the centre-circle and running through on goal beyond Horgan and Johnson who were in close attendance - someone needed to bring him down and take a yellow card for the team
As Zohere got into the box, he lifted a smart finish over the advancing Maxwell and into the net.
Preston's best chance of the first half came from Ben Pearson, the midfielder's curling shot from the right hand side of the box parried by keeper Allan McGreagor.
The hosts struck the woodwork just before the interval, Sean Morrison's downward header bouncing into the path of Hoilett who scooped a shot up against the bar.
Beckford replaced Johnson at half-time, North End switching to 4-4-2.
Three chances fell their way in the first five minutes of the second half, the first a 25-yard McGeady shot which flashed inches wide of the target.
Clarke put a half-volley too high after a free-kick from Gallagher had been cleared into his path, then another Gallagher free-kick from the right which kept low came through to Beckford who put a first-time shot too near McGregor.
In the 55th minute, Preston went close again, Hugill's shot on the turn after Huntington had headed down a Gallagher corner, travelling over the bar.
Cardiff responded to North End's lively start to the second half with a couple of chances of their own, Maxwell saving well at his near post to push a low shot from Zohere behind and then making a more routine stop from a Matthew Connolly drive.
The visitors' play showed plenty of effort after that but not enough in the way of craft to find a route through a well organised Cardiff defence to set-up a grandstand finish.
Callum Robinson came on for Horgan and Alan Browne for Pearson but neither could make an impact.
Cardiff: McGregor, Peltier (Connolly 46), Morrison, Bamba (Healey 90), Richards, Harris, Gunnarsson, Ralls, Whittingham (Halford 78), Hoilett, Zohere. Subs (not used): Noone, John, Kennedy, Murphy.
PNE: Maxwell, Browning, Clarke, Huntington, Cunningham, Gallagher. Pearson (Browne 78), Johnson (Beckford 46), Horgan (Robinson 66), McGeady, Hugill. Subs (not used): Makienok, Pringle, Boyle, Lindegaard.
Referee: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire)