Northampton Saints 22 Bath 23: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings
It was almost the archetypal game of two halves for Saints at Franklin's Gardens on Sunday - one that belonged in 2021 and one that would have been more at home in 2020.
Chris Boyd's side looked very much like the 2021 confident, winning version as they swept into a 19-3 lead against Bath.
But a Zach Mercer try from the final play of a first half that Saints had dominated, especially in the scrum, gave Bath the shot in the arm they desperately needed.
The away side came out with the bit between their teeth after the break and kept themselves in contention, taking points-scoring chances when they came.
Saints did the opposite, squandering huge opportunities not only to put the game to bed but also to grab a try bonus point.
And in the end, they were hit by the sucker punch, as Mercer, so often a menace against the black, green and gold, scored for the second time.
Rhys Priestland refused to miss from the tee, racking up the best kicking streak in Premiership history in the process.
And after Saints turned down a shot at goal that could have won them the game late on, Bath bagged a vital scrum penalty five metres from their own line, allowing them to escape.
They saw the game out and celebrated in the fashion that so many before them have done at the Gardens during the past 12 months.
Saints won just once in the league at the Gardens in 2020, beating Worcester Warriors in the final game of the year.
And they will have to wait a bit longer for their first home win of 2021.
But how this one got away, they really won't know.
It felt like such a waste after the superb success at Exeter Chiefs on the previous weekend.
It was the exact thing Saints had spoken about avoiding all week: losing points after winning them in such gritty fashion at Sandy Park.
But unlike at Exeter, their bench couldn't help to get the job done, while Bath's replacements did just that.
Ben Spencer produced yet another telling cameo from scrum-half, while the away side's replacement front row helped to steady the ship a little after a turbulent time.
Saints didn't have such success with their substitutions and they will be scratching their head ahead of this weekend's tricky trip to Harlequins.
But if you want to be a top four side, you not only have to back up wins, but you have to bounce back from defeats.
And now Saints will have to do the latter at The Stoop as they look to banish this hugely disappointing afternoon as quickly as possible.
How they rated...
The young full-back continues to enhance his reputation with each passing minute, scoring his first Saints try here... 7
Missed a chance to send a team-mate over but aside from that, he was really impressive, continually causing Bath problems with ball in hand... 7.5
Came so close to a first-half score and pulled the strings brilliantly when Saints were on top but couldn't have the same impact in the second half... 6.5
Looked strong again as he continues to form the bedrock of the Saints backline but Bath met fire with fire to stop him in his tracks during the second half... 6.5
Was only denied a superb score by a brilliant saving tackle from Ben Spencer. In the first half, the Saints wing delivered the eye-catching offload for a Tom James try... 7
Couldn't quite command the game as he would have hoped during the second half and missed a couple of tackles, but was good with ball in hand during the first period... 6.5
The scrum-half has enjoyed a really strong start to life at Saints and he finished superbly here, bagging two tries, while also displaying a speedy passing game... 7.5
Seemed to relish this battle against one of his former clubs and will be an asset to Saints if he continues in this fashion... 7.5
Made his mark with some smart play during the first half and also helped Saints to command the set piece... 7.5
Came off at half-time for the second week in succession having again impressed at scrum time... 7.5
Loves to carry the fight to the opposition and did everything he could to power his team to victory, but it wasn't to be... 7
Showed some nice touches and plenty of power during the first period, and this was another good shift from the Fiji lock... 7
A typically commanding presence, the forward helped to disrupt Bath and keep Saints on top during the first half... 7
Simply didn't deserve to be on the losing side. Narrowly missed out on a try that would have been a fitting way to seal the game, but his overall performance was so energetic... 7.5
Made more tackles than any other Saints player as he revelled in being back in action from the start... 7
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
PAUL HILL (for Painter 40)
Saints still managed to win the scrum scrap after the break but Bath did battle back to win the penalty when it mattered most, but this was a decent half from the prop... 7
ALEX WALLER (for Auterac 52)
Bath were starting to get back in the game when the co-captain came on and he wasn't able to lead Saints over the line on this occasion... 6
ALEX MOON (for Ratuniyarawa 57)
It's good news for Saints to be able to call on this man again, though he wasn't able to have a huge influence here... 6
CHRON STAR MAN - Zach Mercer (Bath)