Sale moved top of the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP after another watertight defensive display subdued struggling Bristol.
The Sharks made it three successive league games without conceding a try as New Zealand centre Luke McAlister kicked them to a hard-fought victory.
McAlister’s penalty hat-trick kept Bristol pinned to the Premiership basement.
It was the west country club’s ninth successive league defeat, a sequence stretching back six months, and underlined the fight they could face to avoid relegation.
But they can take heart from a fiercely-committed display that meant Sale could never relax.
Penalties in each half from Adrian Jarvis and Ed Barnes kept Bristol in the contest, yet McAlister’s long-range accuracy ensured an away-day triumph.
It was not a night when Sale threatened through their galaxy of international backs, and rugby director Philippe Saint-Andre will demand a huge improvement before Sharks host Gloucester next Friday night.
But he will be satisfied that his team at least gained the required result, even if their performance was some way below-par.
Bristol boss Richard Hill made five changes from the side thumped 31-13 by Harlequins last weekend, with internationals Kevin Maggs, Robert Sidoli and Andrew Blowers among those players left out.
Sale though, recalled the likes of Wales scrum-half Dwayne Peel and England World Cup wing Mark Cueto as they targeted a third successive Premiership victory.
It was a tall order for the home side, but they started promisingly as wing Tom Arscott tested Sale’s defence with a powerful run before Jarvis drifted an opening penalty chance narrowly wide.
Sale looked to play with pace and width, utilising Peel’s endeavour and industry, and they moved ahead through a long-range McAlister penalty after Barnes was sin-binned.
Barnes’ show of dissent saw Bristol temporarily reduced to 14 men, yet Jarvis slotted an equalising penalty that Bristol’s organised approach fully merited.
Sale though, still looked capable of creating chances, and Bristol gained a reprieve when Sharks lock Chris Jones knocked on with the line beckoning.
Sale full-back Mathew Tait and Bristol wing David Lemi both required treatment as half-time approached following a crunching midfield collision, yet a disappointing 40 minutes ended deadlocked.
Jarvis did not appear for the second period – Royal Marine Greg Barden replaced him, with Barnes moving to fly-half – but it made little difference to the overall standard.
The game proved an endless procession of wayward tactical kicking, and with referee David Rose happy to blow his whistle at regular intervals, entertainment value was in short supply.
McAlister edged Sale ahead through a 47th-minute penalty, and Bristol placed an increasing emphasis on Lemi as their main – and often solitary – attacking weapon.
Sale though, failed to move far enough ahead on the scoreboard to enjoy a comfortable closing quarter.
And there were several anxious moments endured by the visitors – notably a missed Barnes penalty on 74 minutes – before they could celebrate their anticipated win.
Sale ended the contest on top, pressing for a try during the closing seconds, but resilient Bristol defence kept them out, giving Hill at least some cause for satisfaction.