Northampton hauled themselves further away from the bottom of the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP table by snatching a famous win over Wasps.
The Saints were on the back-foot for long spells and trailed 6-3 when England hooker Steve Thompson was sent to the sin-bin.
But their one decent spell coincided with Phil Vickery being sin-binned for stamping and they drove Daniel Browne over in the 53rd minute for the clinching try to add to Carlos Spencer’s early penalty.
The win takes them 10 points clear of struggling Worcester and they can take another giant step towards safety by seeing off the Warriors at Franklin’s Gardens on New Year’s Day.
Wasps, meanwhile, will be furious with themselves after dominating virtually the whole game without taking their chances.
Mark Van Gisbergen was the guilty man with the boot – missing four of his six penalty shots – while Alex King also failed to find the target with an eminently kickable drop-goal.
Centre David Quinlan and wing Matthieu Bourret had returned to ease Northampton’s injury crisis and they added extra power to side that thumped Parma twice in the Heineken Cup with recalls for Tom Smith, David Gerard, Christian Short and Darren Fox in the pack.
Wasps opted to bring in Joe Ward at hooker and leave Raphael Ibanez on the bench but were otherwise at full-strength and gave last year’s England Under-19 centre Dominic Waldouck a first Premiership start after two impressive European Cup outings.
Northampton made a bright enough start, snatching a few turn-overs and working their way downfield for Spencer to get them on the board with his 10th minute penalty.
Van Gisbergen stroked over penalties after 20 and 23 minutes when Northampton were caught offside defending on the edge of their 22.
But the full-back missed two other kickable efforts before the break and King was off target with a drop-goal effort.
King’s tactical kicking, though, kept the pressure on and Northampton were forced onto the back foot again just before the break when Thompson was sin-binned for lying on the wrong side of a ruck.
The Saints confounded all expectations, though, when they were reduced to 14 men by launching a sustained assault on the Wasps line.
The visitors appeared to have cleared the danger but Vickery’s 50th minute stamp on replacement hooker Hartley handed the initiative back to Northampton who opted for two scrums before forcing Browne over for the try.
Spencer missed the chance to add to the score when he missed another kickable chance on the hour.
But it did not matter because Van Gisbergen was equally wayward with his two shots at goal in the final quarter as the Saints clung on for a famous victory.