Aside from the result, director of rugby Jim Mallinder could take few positives from Northampton Saints’ gritty Aviva Premiership Rugby win against London Irish.
On a wet evening at Franklin’s Gardens handling errors plagued the champions, who regularly created chances in the Exiles 22 only to see them go to waste.
Ken Pisi and Sam Dickinson did cross over either side of the break but former Northampton fly-half Shane Geraghty struck three penalties to ensure the visitors were in touch right until the final whistle.
And Mallinder, who will take his side to play-off rivals Bath Rugby next weekend, insists that sort of showing is unacceptable for title-challengers such as the Saints.
“We’ve won but we could have easily lost,” he said. “It was a poor performance and we expect better. The positive is that we played badly and won and a lot of credit goes to our defence.
“We didn’t gel tonight at all. The lads know that we didn’t play well. London Irish came here to do a job and they did a good job. They slowed it down and made it awkward for us. We want to play and tire out their forwards and it’s something we couldn’t do today.
“We can get better, we will get a lot better and if we don’t, we will get beaten down at Bath next week.”
James Wilson, Tom Stephenson and man-of-the-match George Pisi were each guilty of knocking on with the try line at their mercy before the break.
But Ken Pisi finally broke the deadlock when racing onto an accurate Stephen Myler kick before Dickinson capitalised on a numerical advantage and a powerful Saints drive to score after the break.
"To be in the contest against the champions in their back yard was a great effort from our lads, we defended really, really well and created pressure," said London Irish head coach Glenn Delaney.
"We have done well, but we can't be satisfied, we had the winning of the game in our hands, but we didn't execute it. It is as tough as it gets here. We pride ourselves on our forward play and this is the acid test coming here.
"These are good nights for us to learn. That is a building block for the next seven weeks of the season. As long as we get that level of effort, we can work on the skill bits and execution, the effort is something you can't coach."
Northampton Saints: Wilson, K Pisi, G Pisi, Stephenson, Elliott, Myler, Fotuali’i (Dickson 54), A Waller (E Waller 67), Haywood, Ma’afu (Clark 49), Manoa, Day, Clark (Denman 43), Dowson, Dickinson (Craig 62)
Replacements not used: Olver, Tuala
London Irish: Fenby, Ojo, Mulchrone, Sheridan (Lewington 60), Fowlie, Geraghty, Steele (O’Leary 59), Court, Paice, Aulika, Skivington, Sinclair (Cox 61), Treviranus, Gilsenan (Halavatau 43), Guest (Narraway 65)
Replacements not used: Stevens, Palframan, Brophy-Clews
Tries: K Pisi, Dickinson
Penalties: Geraghty 3
Referee: Andrew Small
Get 20 per cent off a limited number of tickets to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final 2015. Visit http://www.tickethour.co.uk/premierrugby/ to take advantage of this great offer.