Sale Sharks finally beat their bogey and landed only their second GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP victory in seven straight attempts when third-placed Gloucester were beaten with a last-gasp penalty.
It was an evening where the champions desperately needed to get their league form back on the road, having won just one game since beating Wasps on November 3.
Small wonder why fans have been getting on the backs of head coach Philippe Saint Andre and his players as the slump continues into the new year.
But chief executive Nils de Vos has asked for patience, and the Sharks boss can be forgiven over the loss of key men like Jason White, Charlie Hodgson and Andrew Sheridan.
Yet champions overcome these odds and the way Sale played against Gloucester, regaining their crown this season looks a long way off.
In the opening exchanges, third-placed Gloucester were in command and went ahead when newly-named England Saxons fly-half Ryan Lamb booted a straightforward 22 metre penalty between the posts.
And it got worse when flanker Juan Fernandez Lobbe was sin-binned inside his own 22 for Lamb to add a second penalty.
But that sparked 14-man Sale into action at last and saw fly-half David Blair boot a 24 metre penalty.
Blair missed a chance to draw level before big number eight Sebastian Chabal hit England wing Iain Balshaw into touch on halfway and Lamb’s third penalty restored the six-point gap.
The champions were not right out of it as a combination of Mike Tindall and Balshaw stopped wing Chris Mayor from going over, while flanker Magnus Lund made a powerful break down the right.
However, they have never got over Hodgson’s loss and their lack of a fly-half replacement showed, with Blair replaced after 38 minutes by Ben Foden.
Gloucester inflicted a hammer blow on the home side right on half-time when Tindall fed Balshaw on halfway and the wing booted the ball towards the Sale in-goal area.
Full-back Daniel Larrechea fumbled and James Simpson-Daniel was right there to touch down.
Lamb’s conversion put Gloucester 16-3 up at the interval and Sale were in trouble again.
It did not go right either when Chris Mayor sprinted down the left on the restart and scrum-half Rory Lawson dived in front of him, preventing a certain try but escaping punishment.
Gloucester were far better, with the pack providing a solid platform and Lawson kicking the Sharks backwards at every opportunity from the set pieces.
There was hope of a home victory, though, when prop Christian Califano was binned minutes after entering the fray for coming into a ruck on the wrong side.
Sale powered to the visitors’ line, replacement scrum-half Sililo Martens fed Richard Wigglesworth who sent centre Chris Bell in from 10 metres, Wigglesworth adding the conversion.
Lamb booted another penalty to put his team nine points to the good but again a powerful forward effort brought the Sharks close when replacement prop Sebastien Bruno emerged from a pile of bodies with the ball and Wigglesworth’s conversion brought fresh hope.
And that victory finally came when Gloucester went offside in injury time for Wigglesworth to hold his nerve and land a penalty from 22 metres.