Sale Sharks 22 Northampton Saints 10: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings
It was most definitely a case of 'Bah, humbug' for Saints at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
They ran into the northern scrooges that are Sale Sharks, who refused to give them a single gift during a hugely disappointing second half.
The Sharks showed bite in defence and gobbled up Saints' errors, stopping Chris Boyd's men from scoring any points after the break.
It was yet another sobering experience at a ground where Saints have now won just two of eight Premiership games.
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And, with it coming hot on the heels of the double Champions Cup defeat to Leinster, it was more misery for Saints to soak up before Christmas.
For those who don't enjoy the festive season, it really was a day to forget.
One on which Christmas songs played on loop and the putrid smell of Brussels sprouts wafted around the stadium.
Events on the field wouldn't have improved the mood as Saints let things slip after a strong end to the first half.
Twice they went one on one with the Sale defence, with Taqele Naiyaravoro and Cobus Reinach both brought down in the 22 when it looked like they may score.
And then, seconds before the break, Saints kicked a penalty to the corner, only to see their lineout stolen at the crucial moment.
It was so irksome for those of a Northampton persuasion because, had they scored on the brink of half-time, the Sharks would have been the ones treading water.
As it was, Saints let them off the hook, and they eventually found themselves submerged during a horrible start to the second period.
Sale scored twice in the space of four minutes, with the only reprieve being that fly-half Rob du Preez didn't bring his kicking boots.
Still, even when Saints finally did emerge from their own half late on, errors were made again and any sort of momentum was lost.
It was another day when indiscipline in defence thwarted the black, green and gold.
It has been a theme of the season so far with so many penalties given away.
Saints have been sinners, and it has cost them dear on a few occasions.
On others, their attacking game has saved them, but there is no doubt that they need to learn to deal with the heat opposition teams bring in attack.
At times, it seems like Saints won't be able to get out of their own half without at least giving away points from the tee.
And they really need to start finding a way to get on the right side of the referee as they look to cope with the power and intensity teams bring on their own turf.
The likes of Bath, Sale and even Benetton, who eventually lost to a late Dan Biggar kick, have got in the faces of Saints and got their rewards.
And unless Saints can come up with a solution for that dimension of the game, they will struggle to hold on to their lofty league standing.
That being said, it is far from doom and gloom as Christmas approaches.
This Saints team is in a far better position and place than it was at this time last year.
The club has come a long way and, when they get it right, Saints are simply a joy to behold.
They may have lost three successive matches in all competitions, but there is certainly no shame in losing to Leinster or at Sale.
Those are some of the most difficult matches on the calendar and Saints have now negotiated them, if not in the way they wanted.
Those games won't define the season, but the ones during the next five weeks before what will be a welcome break will go a long way to shaping the club's destiny in this campaign.
So Saints now need to make sure there is no post-Christmas malaise and get their bid back on track in front of their Franklin's Gardens well wishers on Saturday.
How they rated...
The full-back was returning to action after a couple of weeks out and he took a bit of time to get into his stride before eventually making some inroads late on... 5.5
Wasn't really the wing's day as Sale shut down any space out wide, stopping him from using his obvious skills... 5.5
Was forced off with a head injury after an incident that might see Chris Ashton get in trouble and he showed some of his class while on the field... 5.5
Was Saints' only real spark in attack, making one superb break that put his side in position to score, and constantly keeping Sale on their toes... 7
Made one big run that almost brought a try, but that was about as much time and space as he was afforded as Saints spent a lot of the game on the back foot... 6
Some of his kicks to touch put Saints in good positions to test Sale at lineout time, but they only really managed that once... 6.5
Endured a horrible start to the game, giving away an intercept try and seeing a box kick charged down, but he bounced back and started to look more like himself... 5
The co-captain put plenty of effort in and helped Saints to keep the scrum steady on a tough afternoon... 5.5
A couple of passes went astray as the hooker searched for a foothold in the game, but he was typically tenacious in defence... 5
Held his own in the scrum but it was a largely quiet day for the young prop in another important learning experience... 5
Battled hard, as ever, trying to use his physicality to combat a Sale team who really turned up the heat in the contact area... 6
Came into the team at late notice due to Tom Wood being forced to miss out and the lock, who has put a lot into the past few weeks, delivered another shift... 6
Had to move into the back row due to Tom Wood's withdrawal because of illness, and the England man carried hard, only to be met by a blue wall... 6
Was Saints' most impressive forward once again, using his physicality to gain ground and shoving his way over the line for his side's only score... 7
Showed his desire and commitment to the cause once again, but Sale stopped him from having his usual impact... 6
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
PIERS FRANCIS (for Proctor 47)
Was fortunate that one pass, which was intercepted inside the Saints 22, didn't cost his team a try as he tried to make things happen without reward... 5
FRANCOIS VAN WYK (for Waller 51)
Will be desperate to get a run of games at some point and he put himself about here, making six tackles without missing one... 6
OWEN FRANKS (for Painter 51)
Is now back from a thumb injury and looked hungry for action, getting stuck in and trying to add his power to proceedings... 6
CHRON STAR MAN - Akker van der Merwe (Sale Sharks)