Queensland Reds were ultimately made to pay for a slow start as their first Super Rugby game since the sacking of Richard Graham ended in an agonising 25-23 loss to Melbourne Rebels.
Graham was relieved of his duties on Monday after overseeing defeats to the Waratahs and Western Force at the start of 2016, with Matt O'Connor and Nick Stiles placed in charge as co-coaches.
The Reds showed little sign of improvement in the opening half-hour of Saturday's match at AAMI Park, falling 16-0 behind courtesy of a converted Jonah Placid try and three penalties from Jack Debreczeni.
However, the visitors refused to throw in the towel and briefly moved ahead in the final quarter, only for Debreczeni's sixth successful penalty - which completed a 20-point individual haul - to prove decisive.
The Rebels' only try came early when Placid latched on to a perfectly weighted grubber kick from Ben Meehan - following Sean McMahon's powerful break - to dot down in the left corner.
Hendrik Tui provided the Reds with a welcome lifeline prior to the interval, the Japan flanker bursting through a tackle before timing an inside pass for Nick Frisby to perfection - sending the scrum half under the posts.
By the time a rolling maul put Andrew Ready over for his first Super Rugby try with 22 minutes remaining, Jake McIntyre converting, the Reds were within two points.
McIntrye then landed his third penalty to edge his side ahead, but the Rebels were given the chance to respond almost immediately and Debreczeni made no mistake with a simple kick.
The Reds piled on the pressure late on despite the late sin-binning of Anthony Fainga'a, but could not find a way through.