Dean Richards insists his Newcastle Falcons side are improving way ahead of schedule, despite narrowly missing out on causing an Aviva Premiership Rugby upset at home to Saracens.
The visitors looked to have put the game to bed at Kingston Park, leading 25-13 with 10 minutes remaining.
But replacement Chris Harris crashed over twice in five minutes on his Premiership debut – the second with the last play of the game – to give Juan Pablo Socino the chance of drawing the match with the conversion.
However the little Argentinian's kick from wide out shaved the post to send Saracens third in the Aviva Premiership Rugby, while Newcastle did manage a losing bonus point.
And Richards was delighted his much-improved side are able to consistently go toe-to-toe with the best in the league.
“We have a five-year plan but on the evidence of this we look like we're two years ahead of that,” he said.
“I'm disappointed with the result but delighted with the effort. We're on the way to being a side who can compete with the top sides in the Aviva Premiership Rugby and we'll see again how far we've come when we go to Northampton next Friday.
“It's what you want, to test yourself against the best and see if you can match them.
“We thought we should have won at Quins, and today we showed we have a formula that is working. We may be two years ahead of plan, but we have to keep on tweaking things.
“Chris Harris looks like our super-sub. I don't think he'll be going back to Rotherham on loan now.”
And while Saracens' win keeps them in the running for the Aviva Premiership Rugby title, director of rugby Mark McCall admitted Newcastle’s performances of late have earned his respect.
He said: “I felt we deserved the win and would have been gutted if we hadn't (won), but Newcastle must be the most improved side in the Premiership and they pushed us all the way.
“I think we may have gotten a little carried away in the closing stages and with chasing the fourth try bonus and we probably paid for that.”
Newcastle Falcons: Tait, Sinoti, Powell, Socino, Tuilagi (Harris 23, Penny 54), Catterick, Blair (Tipuna 63), Vickers (Fry 59), Lawson (McGuigan 59), S. Wilson (Brookes 59), Green, Thompson (Furno 70), M. Wilson, Welch (Saull 70), Hogg.
Saracens: Goode, Ashton, Bosch, Farrell, Wyles (Strettle 71), Hodgson (Tompkins 40), de Kock (Wigglesworth 49), M Vunipola (Barrington 76), George, Johnston (Du Plessis 49), Hamilton (Itoje 66), Hargreaves, B Vunipola, Burger, Joubert (Wray 56).
Replacements not used: Sharman.
Tries: Sinoti, Harris 2
Penalties: Socino 2
Tries: de Kock, Tompkins, Ashton
Conversions: Farrell 2
Penalties: Farrell 2
Referee: Luke Pearce