Bristol ended their eight-month wait for a GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP victory after climbing off the canvas to floor Northampton.
Substitute centre Luke Eves’ 69th-minute try – converted by his midfield partner Ed Barnes – halted a run of 11 successive league defeats stretching back to March.
Bristol stay bottom of the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP but they are now just one point behind reigning champions and fellow strugglers Wasps.
Much of Bristol’s rugby lacked composure or direction, yet they showed nerves of steel during the closing stages, taking the fight to a Northampton side that ultimately buckled under pressure.
It was Bristol’s first GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP success since toppling Newcastle at Kingston Park, which will give them heart for their remaining league matches this month against Gloucester and London Irish.
Number eight Dan Ward-Smith scored a close-range try in the first half, which Adrian Jarvis converted, while centre James Downey touched down for Northampton, with fly-half Stephen Myler slotting two penalties and a conversion.
And Myler was almost Saints’ hero, drifting a long drop-goal attempt agonisingly wide with the game’s final kick.
Bristol were boosted by the return of former England scrum-half Shaun Perry, who featured in their match-day squad for the first time this season after recovering from shoulder surgery.
Northampton went into battle without England hooker Dylan Hartley, Scotland forwards Euan Murray and Scott Gray, plus injured wing Sean Lamont, but there was no obvious sign of disruption.
Myler booted Saints into a 12th-minute lead, and Northampton shaded the opening quarter before Bristol struck from a trademark drive by their forwards.
Jarvis sacrificed a kickable penalty for territory, but Bristol gained their reward when Ward-Smith touched down under a pile of bodies.
Jarvis added the conversion, yet Bristol lacked the confidence to build on their lead and they were stung by a well-worked Saints touchdown within three minutes.
Quality approach work by the visitors, with backs and forwards linking effortlessly in attack, ended in style as Downey – who started the move – went over.
Myler kicked the extras, and although Bristol enjoyed a degree of territorial control approaching half-time, Northampton trooped off 10-7 ahead.
Bristol needed a spark, and head coach Richard Hill clearly saw Perry as the potential catalyst, sending him on for Graeme Beveridge just 12 minutes into the second period.
Errors had started to mount up on both sides, with a missed Myler penalty the closest either team came to scoring during a dismal 15-minute spell.
Saints full-back Ben Foden’s counter-attacking skills meant he was a constant threat to the Bristol defence, and a second Myler penalty saw Northampton move six points clear.
Bristol, in keeping with a team that had won just once in 10 starts across three competitions this term, lacked confidence when they moved possession wide.
Their Samoan World Cup wing David Lemi apart, Bristol possessed no cutting edge in attack, and Northampton’s defence coped comfortably.
Foden and wing Chris Ashton tried to stretch Bristol wide, and even when Bristol had possession, they foundered on technical indiscipline that referee Dean Richards readily punished.
Perry showed his quality through a slashing midfield break yet his team-mates reacted so slowly that he became isolated and Northampton cleared the danger.
Saints had not recorded a GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP away win since they beat Leicester 10-9 in February, 2007, but they entered the closing 10 minutes showing a degree of control.
Bristol though, conjured a try out of nothing when Eves – son of former Bristol captain Derek – sliced through Saints’ defence and sprinted 30 metres unopposed.
The crowd were almost as surprised as Northampton, but Barnes’ angled conversion put Bristol one point in front.
Bristol then had to close the game out, a task they performed with a degree of expertise, although Northampton could only kick themselves after poor play by Ashton destroyed a promising counter-attack, and then Myler narrowly missed the target.