Calum Clark’s return from exile ended in an east midlands derby defeat as Saints were beaten 16-12 by Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
Clark, who saw his 32-week ban lifted on the eve of the game, put in a mature display beyond his 23 years, playing the full 80 minutes in his first game since the LV= Cup final defeat to Leicester in March.
Saints tasted defeat on that occasion and that heartache was repeated as a second-half score from centre Matt Smith and 11 points from the boot of George Ford won it for Tigers.
Ford was to have a shocking day, though, missing five kicks and failing to put the game out of sight when given the chance.
Ryan Lamb, who had put Saints 6-0 up early on, landed four penalties, but was shown a yellow card for nudging a player off the ball with five minutes to go.
Despite that, his side held on to earn a losing bonus point which their spirited display had more than merited.
The inclusion of Clark in the Saints line-up dominated the pre-match build-up, but the flanker was not greeted with the expected level of animosity as he took to the Welford Road pitch.
The home faithful almost refused to acknowledge him as a teacher might with a naughty schoolchild, feeling silence was the best expression of discontent.
The game itself started with few fireworks but Saints began with fire in their bellies and were awarded an early penalty as Richard Thorpe was penalised for not rolling away.
Lamb struck the kick sweetly to put his side ahead but Tigers almost had an immediate riposte as Saints failed to gather the kick-off effectively and presented possession to their hosts.
But the away side held out and showed their strength in the scrum as the home pack crumbled to concede a penalty.
And the Tigers forwards didn’t do much better moments later, again losing out at the scrum, presenting Lamb with another penalty chance, which he again slotted with aplomb.
Ford, in for Toby Flood, who is on England duty, had the chance to land an instant reply as Saints were penalised by referee Greg Garner, but his kick went wide to a backdrop of groans from the home faithful.
He missed again moments later, but made it third time lucky on 18 minutes to narrow the gap to three with an effort from directly in front of the posts.
But Ford was not proving reliable and he stuttered once again soon after as Saints did brilliantly to prevent a try, but conceded a penalty in front of the posts.
The 19-year-old No.10 was having what could only be described as a shocker and his woe was added to as he failed to find touch with another penalty effort.
Saints continued to grind to get a foothold in the game and they pinched a lineout five metres from the Leicester line, but Lamb fluffed a good chance of a drop goal when there were better options available.
Jim Mallinder will have been delighted with the way his side competed during the first half, with solid defence becoming the hallmark of the half for the men in blue.
But Tigers did get one last chance before the break as they squeezed a penalty out of Saints, allowing Ford to partially atone for his earlier misses by levelling the scores at 6-6 at the break.
And the home side took the lead just a minute into the second half as Mark Sorenson was unable to pouch the kick-off and Tigers made the attacking position pay, Smith storming through to score.
Ford added the extras and from being 6-0 down, Tigers were not 13-6 up, with the wind in their sails.
But Saints refused to be crushed with immediate effect and they mounted an instant reply as Lamb grabbed a penalty in front of the posts.
He was less fortunate minutes later, however, hitting the post with another effort to give the Tigers time to breathe.
It had been a long time coming, but the first flashpoint of the afternoon arrived on 56 minutes as Mike Haywood stormed into Geordan Murphy and the referee called for the TMO.
But with the home fans baying for blood, Garner took no action. Tigers were handed a penalty chance for a different incident, allowing Ford to put them 16-9 up.
Still Saints refused to buckle and they were showing immense spirit in attack, displaying their intelligence at the breakdown to keep the Tigers caged in their own half.
Territory wasn’t turned into tries, though, and the home side should have made the most of their reprieve as Ford had two penalty chances in quick succession.
But, in keeping with his afternoon, he missed them both and Lamb took advantage at the other end, grabbing a penalty which saw his side creep to within four points with six minutes to go.
The Saints fly-half then saw yellow for a silly block which hampered his side for the final four minutes and Tigers held out to claim the derby-day bragging rights.
Leicester Tigers: Murphy; Hamilton (Goneva 41), Allen, Smith, Morris; Ford, Youngs; Ayerza, Chuter, Castrogiovanni; Deacon (Slater 34), Kitchener; Mafi, Salvi, Thorpe.
Replacements: Stevens, Stankovich, Balmain, Noone, Harrison, Bowden.
Saints: May; K Pisi (Artemyev 56), G Pisi, Waldouck, Elliott (Burrell 74); Lamb, Roberts, Tonga’uiha (Waller 63), Haywood, Mujati (Doran-Jones 60); Manoa, Sorenson, Clark, Dowson, van Velze (Oakley 71).
Replacements: McMillan, Nutley, Day.
Referee: Greg Garner