Bath Rugby held off a ferocious Exeter Chiefs comeback to secure a 23-15 Aviva Premiership win despite the sending off of Dan Hipkiss.
Coming into the game Michael Claassens had highlighted the importance of a Bath victory against a team just ahead of them in the table.
And they made the perfect start with first-half tries from Ben Williams and Kyle Eastmond before Francois Louw’s second-half effort.
In reply Brett Sturgess and Ignacio Mieres went over for the Chiefs with Hipkiss being sin-binned in between before getting a second yellow while he was off the pitch.
Despite the momentum being with Exeter Stephen Donald held his nerve with a late penalty to ensure Bath couldn’t lose, before Mieres missed the chance to give Exeter a deserved bonus point.
Williams was heavily involved early on as he made a great tackle on Jason Shoemark to stop an early Exeter attack and was involved again after just three minutes when he shrugged off a tackle from Gonzalo Camacho to go over in the corner.
The initial break had come from Nick Abendanon before Williams showed his strength to hold of the Argentinean winger and score. Stephen Donald slotted a tricky conversion.
Exeter had the chance to react immediately but Gareth Steenson’s penalty attempt bounced off the outside of the right post, allowing Bath to clear.
Abendanon was again involved in Bath’s second try, making an initial break down the left. The ball was recycled with Louw making more yards and with the Exeter defence in disarray the ball was spread wide for Eastmond to dive over.
Steenson missed a second penalty attempt from about 45 metres but on 23 minutes they were finally on the scoresheet.
Some great hands between forwards and backs ended with Tom Johnson sending prop Brett Sturgess into space on the right and he went over unchallenged. Steenson missed a third straight kick to leave the score at 12-5.
However Bath were still clearly in the ascendancy and after a series of probing runs the Exeter defence was stretched to breaking point with Donald slotting the penalty to give the home side a 15-5 half-time lead.
Camacho had been very quiet for the Chiefs in the first half but after the break he began to get his hands on the ball much more regularly and he was heavily involved in a period of concerted pressure which ended with a simple penalty for Steenson.
Despite getting back to within a score Exeter appeared desperate to run the ball from their own half and it allowed Bath to maintain territorial dominance.
That eventually paid off when the home side found themselves with an overlap and it was Louw who blasted over the weak attempt at a tackle from Phil Dollman to score.
Trailing by 12 points Exeter needed a reaction and after piling on the pressure Hipkiss was sent to the sin bin for slowing the ball down with quarter of an hour remaining.
The extra man told with Bath forced to pile bodies in around the fringes and despite almost blowing a massive overlap, replacement fly-half Mieres crashed over. The Puma slotted the conversion to bring his side back to 20-15 ten minutes from time.
Bath were under pressure and it got worse when Hipkiss picked up a second yellow card when in the sin bin as he prevented Exeter from taking a quick lineout, leaving referee Wayne Barnes no choice but to upgrade his yellow card to a red.
With the Chiefs on the attack Bath looked close to breaking point but a penalty earned by Stuart Hooper allowed them to relieve the pressure before another penalty allowed Donald to slot three points and guarantee the win.
Both teams were after a bonus point, Bath for four tries, Exeter to get within seven but Mieres’ late penalty effort went horribly wide.