Newcastle Falcons 25 Northampton Saints 22: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings
Saints had a big chance to spoil the party at St James' Park on Saturday evening.
But in the end, they gift wrapped the points for Newcastle Falcons.
Saints were the side who played the better rugby during the game, finding not one, not two, but three paths through the home defence.
But one try was to be enough for Newcastle as fly-half Toby Flood racked up a whopping 20 points with the boot.
Saints shipped an alarming 14 penalties during the game, most of which came in their own half.
And even though their attacking game clicked at times, they were undone by their inability to keep their composure in defence.
Time and again, they scored a try or kicked a penalty only for Falcons to respond within a minute.
Saints struggled from the restart all day and Flood took advantage of the string of penalties that came his way, eventually landing the match-winning kick from long-range.
That effort only just sneaked between the posts, showing the fine margins in the Aviva Premiership.
Saints have been so close to victories at Exeter and Newcastle, two of the league's top four teams, in recent weeks.
And that just shows why those side are challenging at the summit, because they find a way to win tight matches.
Newcastle have beaten Saints twice in the league this season, by a combined total of five points.
They have found the winning habit that Saints possessed during the double-winning campaign of 2013/14 and the subsequent season, when they topped the league standings.
The black, green and gold have lost that ability to edge nail-biting encounters in recent times and they will hope that steel returns under the stewardship of Chris Boyd next season.
There is no doubt that they have the ability to push the league's best, but often they are unable to show composure and clear game management when it matters most.
Credit must go to Newcastle for winning while not being at their best and also staging an impressive event.
More than 30,000 fans flocked to St James' Park and created a good atmosphere at the home of Newcastle United.
But Saints couldn't quite produce the big result to match a big performance in The Big One.
Once again, they were left to reflect on an away-day defeat, their eighth in nine league games on the road this season.
And now they must prepare for the toughest of months, with Saracens, Leicester Tigers and Wasps lying in wait.
If they can show the kind of determination and skill they have at times against Exeter and Newcastle, they can again go close in at least one of those games.
But going close is not enough for a club of this stature.
And Saints now have to find a way to turn narrow defeats into wins as they look ahead to a new era under Boyd.
Several of the players who strutted their stuff at St James' Park won't be at Franklin's Gardens next season.
But they will be well aware of the responsibility they have to keep pride in the Northampton shirt.
And since the turn of the year, Saints have at least done that, aside from the defeats to Saracens at Allianz Park and Sale at the Gardens.
Now they get set to square up to Sarries again, and they know they simply can't afford to give them the kind of gifts they presented to the Falcons.
Because, as we've seen on three occasions this season, things get tough when Saracens are allowed to get going.
How they rated...
Cleared well under pressure on a couple of occasions, but wasn't able to get the kind of space he savours in attack... 6
Etched his name on the scoresheet once again, finishing well after being set up by Ben Nutley... 6
Once again, the Australian centre was one of Saints' most impressive performers, scoring his eighth try in 19 appearances and scrapping for every blade of grass... 7
Showed courage to get up and play on after a jackhammer hit from Josh Matavesi, and largely enjoyed a good evening... 7
Tried to get involved in the game and helped to play a part in Horne's try, but Falcons closed him down well... 6
Produced some lovely touches early in the game and once again showed how good he is from the tee on the day after his summer departure was confirmed...7
Got Saints' attacking game ticking during the first half as they played some slick stuff, but Falcons were eventually able to get to grips with him... 6
Never shies away from the physical battle, trying to use force to flay the Falcons, and he largely did okay... 6
Saw Vereniki Goneva sneak past him for Falcons' only try and gave away a couple of penalties after battling on from a knock in the first half... 5
Put himself about well, taking his former club on in the scrum and delivering a good 70-minute showing... 7
Carried a lot for Saints during the first half, with the away side using him as a battering ram to push the Falcons back... 7
The skipper tried to keep his team calm under pressure, but they weren't quite able to get the job done... 6
Grabbed himself a try with a show of strength during the first half and didn't look fazed by playing on the flank... 7
Wasn't able to make his mark on the game as he was forced off with concussion just before half-time... 6
Played a part in all three tries during a strong first 60 minutes, but was guilty of giving away a couple of penalties late on... 7
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
MITCH EADIE (for Gibson 38)
Was making a rare appearance, but wasn't able to have too much of a say, even though he put in plenty of effort... 6
COBUS REINACH (for Groom 56)
The replacement scrum-half couldn't inject the kind of speed his team wanted as Falcons put Saints on the back foot late on... 5
CHRON STAR MAN - Toby Flood (Newcastle Falcons)