A distraught Matt Banahan looked on helplessly as Chris Myler lined up the last-minute conversion that would snatch victory for Northampton.
The England wing had been shown the red card in the 66th minute on the advice of the assistant referee who had flagged him for stamping, saying Banahan's boot made contact with Myler's head. So when Ben Foden and Jon Clarke created space with a last-ditch foray into the Bath 22, Banahan was conspicuous by his absence as Chris Ashton made the extra man count for his second try of the game. Myler, a 60th minute replacement for fly-half Shane Geraghty, landed the match-winning kick to leave Bath Rugby with only a losing bonus point. It was almost too much to bear, especially as the quality of performance was a world and a half away from the lacklustre defeat at home to London Irish a week earlier. "We need to deliver performances like that every week", said head coach Steve Meehan afterwards. "Any other day we could have scored three or four tries. We were denied a couple of times but overall it was a far better performance, with far more intent. Early on we weren't as good at the set-piece as we needed to be but we improved as the match went on." Warming to the theme, Meehan continued: "It's personal pride, isn't it. That's what it comes down to fighting for your mates and fighting for your club and your supporters. We've copped it from all corners this week and we're not denying that we didn't deserve it, given the performance last week. But the players need to look at this performance and say 'OK, that's what we're capable of and that's what we need to do to get everybody behind us, including ourselves.' We need to show everybody, and ourselves in particular, the sort of team that we are and bring back that stubbornness and doggedness and produce it every week." Meehan was disappointed to say the least at Banahan's dismissal, saying: "We'll see what happens from a judicial point of view but from where I was sitting it didn't look like a red card. It's even worse that Stephen Myler said that he made contact with his forearm, not his head. Matt's pretty down in the dumps about it. The referee wasn't influenced by anyone except the assistant referee who told him it was a red card. I do know that the assistant referee said he made contact with his head." "Defeat was poor reward for a brave, gutsy effort from the players, particularly Andy Beattie. It's the best performance from him for a long time", said Meehan. "It was his 199th match and he was very disappointed. He showed the emotion at the end of the match and the commitment to the squad that we need from absolutely everybody." With only three minutes gone, the Bath pack were marched back at a scrum before going to ground, prompting a scuffle between the two packs. Referee David Rose brought both captains together along with Bath's Davey Wilson but then awarded a penalty for the technical offence. Shane Geraghty scuffed his kick however. The frenetic opening continued with Luke Watson being turned over in his own half and Bath then forcing a knock-on from the home side only for Little to have a clearance kick charged down. A free kick awarded against the home scrum brought relief but it was obvious that the scrum was going to be a problem area for the referee. Another penalty against Saints allowed Bath to step up the pressure as Banahan busted through in midfield and Michael Claassens was brought down just short of the line on 13 minutes. No 8 Watson drove for the line from the ensuing scrum under the posts but possession was turned over and Geraghty cleared. It was a chance and it had gone begging. Suddenly it was time to defend again as Nick Abendanon dropped a straightforward pass outside his 22 and the Bath scrum was again penalised on the retreat. This time Geraghty made no mistake from 35 metres to open the scoring on 20 minutes. Bath were on terms within six minutes however after Wilson made a dent in the defensive line and Banahan combined with Julian Salvi on the right, forcing a penalty which Nicky Little converted. After Michael Stephenson on the right wing was upended dangerously by Joe Ansbro, Bath stormed back on to the attack but were turned over on the opposite side of the field and damagingly so. The ball was whipped out on the short side to Chris Ashton who chipped and chased before plunging on the rolling ball for a 34th minute try. Geraghty was just wide with the conversion. The tit-for-tat continued and Little missed a chance to pull back three points but his penalty drifted wide from a narrow angle, leaving Northampton with an 8-3 lead at the break. Just three minutes after the break, Bath lost Danny Grewcock to injury but they put together their most fluent back line move after Lee Mears sped away down the touchline, supported by David Flatman. Quick, crisp passing sent Stephenson away but the wing was stopped in the corner. The die-hard travelling support did not have to wait long though as Bath moved the ball left and right and Banahan barrelled through to the line before it was whipped away through Little's hands for Shontayne Hape to dive over on 47 minutes. Little converted magnificently from the touchline. It was not certainly not an error-free display from Bath but they were looking a wholly more confident side, even offloading in a fashion not seen since last season. Banahan's dismissal offered Myler a long range kicking opportunity but the ball fell just short. Minutes later Little had a chance from a similar range on the other side of the field, all of 50 metres and very wide out. When it scraped over the bar to open up a five-point lead it seemed that the fates were on Bath's side at last. But Northampton summoned up one last surge and Claassens' men were denied at the death yet again.