Two late penalties from Ben Botica ensured that Harlequins came from behind for the second week in a row to spoil Dean Richards’ return to the Stoop.
As they did against London Wasps last time out, Conor O’Shea’s side left it late before Botica slotted two scores in the last six minutes to keep Quins in the play-off places and condemn Newcastle Falcons to an eighth successive league defeat.
First-half tries from Ollie Lindsay-Hague and Sam Smith looked to have put the game beyond the visitors but a lack of discipline and a dominant Newcastle scrum gave the Falcons hope.
Fly-half Rory Clegg kicked nine points against his former club and when Alex Tait went over for a second-half try it looked like the Falcons were going to steal it before Botica’s late intervention.
The Stoop ground staff had been out tending the turf at 3am on Saturday morning following heavy overnight rain and handling errors from both sides marred the early exchanges.
The attacking flair that Quins fans once enjoyed during Richards’ four-year tenure returned to the Twickenham ground as Newcastle commanded much of the opening territory, but it was Quins who went ahead on 11 minutes through Lindsay-Hague’s smart cut inside.
Captain Nick Easter rejected a penalty kick from 25 metres and instead let Ugo Monye hit Newcastle out of the maul, which triggered a flowing move left-to-right for Lindsay-Hague to touch down the opening try.
The London side then doubled their lead after a 20-yard drive earned them another attacking penalty.
Easter again gambled on the lineout and once more it paid off when Karl Dickson sent the ball out to wing Sam Smith, who required a television replay on the far right flank to confirm his fourth try of the season.
It was a rare opening for Smith, who scored twice during Harlequins’ 35-9 victory over Newcastle at Kingston Park in December.
Newcastle tightened up after the second try and began to force the mistakes in their opposing pack.
Former Quins No.10 Clegg defied the swirling wind to score with the boot and hit the post either side of half-time as the home side rode their luck in the ruck.
The indiscipline in Quins’ front eight blighted their rare possessions after the break and Richards got the response he wanted as Clegg dispatched two further penalties to bring the match to within three points.
Not even a triple substitution from O’Shea could stop the Newcastle line that, led by Scott Lawson, eventually broke through on 69 minutes.
Hooker Lawson instigated a scrappy yet resilient attack across the Quins line that fell to Tait to dive over and put the visitors 14-12 to the good.
Yet it wasn’t to be Richards’ afternoon as Lawson picked up a yellow card during a feisty end, leaving Botica free to slide home the winning penalty.
And the Kiwi fly-half added three more points with the final kick of the game to shine some light on a scrappy performance from Quins, who remain in fourth place in the Aviva Premiership ahead of their trip to Gloucester Rugby.