Matt Smith’s try right after half-time was enough to help Leicester Tigers to a 16-12 victory in a tightly-contested East Midlands derby at Welford Road.
After a slow start the Tigers dominated possession and territory but an off-day from George Ford in front of goal, the youngster missing five penalty chances, kept the scoreline tight.
Northampton made the better start when Leicester were penalised for being offside straight in front of the posts and Ryan Lamb slotted the penalty from 30m to make it 3-0 after four minutes.
Saints had the chance to double their lead when Martin Castrogiovanni was penalised for binding on the arm at a scrum and from wide on the right Lamb made no mistake.
Leicester should have hit back immediately when Samu Manoa made a late tackle on Ford, but having shaken off the knock the young fly-half’s effort flew wide to the right of the posts.
And it didn’t get any better for the 19-year-old when his second penalty attempt drifted wide a couple of minutes later.
However after a third Northampton infringement in a very short space of time, Ford finally got off the mark from virtually the same place on the left.
Leicester were beginning to build some momentum and it needed a desperate intervention from Lamb to stop Ben Youngs dotting down for the first try after Niall Morris’ chip over the top.
However when Leicester were awarded another penalty, Ford’s difficulties from the kicking tee resurfaced as his effort skewed wide.
Northampton could have extended their lead further when they stole a Tigers lineout deep in Leicester territory but after failing to find a way through Lamb made a mess of his drop goal attempt.
And with the final play of the half Ford made Northampton pay, knocking over his second penalty of the afternoon to make it 6-6 at the break.
Goneva, who had replaced Scott Hamilton, provided the spark two minutes after the break, popping up on the shoulder of Ford before offloading for Smith to score.
Ford’s conversion made it 13-6 but Lamb got a penalty back for Saints almost immediately after an early tackle from the Leicester fly-half.
The Northampton fly-half could have added another soon after but his effort rebounded off the outside of the post and when Mike Heywood was penalised for a clash in the air with Geordan Murphy, Ford stretched the lead to 16-9.
Lamb hit back with another penalty eight minutes from time but the Saints fly-half then made a bad mistake when he barged Anthony Allen off the ball and was sent to the sin bin as Tigers held out for the win.