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Saracens hold on for victory over Bristol Saracens hold on for victory over Bristol

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Saracens hold on for victory over Bristol

It was not a particularly auspicious affair – as you'd expect from a bargain-basement encounter – but the relief at having ground out the win was etched on the Saracens players' faces at the final whistle, the Watford men knowing that they had lifted themselves out of the relegation zone – for the time being, at least.

But for the visitors, it was a desperate disappointment and means that they are still fighting for their very survival in the top flight with just two matches left – against Bath and London Irish – to save their status.

Saracens nearly struck an early blow through England Sevens speedster Richard Haughton, the winger dancing up the right-hand touchline to score what looked like a perfectly good try. But the touch judge had other ideas and the home side were denied an early advantage.

Instead, Bristol drew first blood. Having spurned an eminently kickable penalty, Bristol nudged the ball into the corner and went for the classic catch-and-drive, resulting in a try for prop Andrew Sheridan, the 20-stone forward nigh-on unstoppable at close range.

With Shane Drahm adding the extras, the Shoguns were in a good position, but another intervention by Haughton soon drew the scores level.

Saracens stormed down into the Bristol half before the ball was transferred down the right, with Haughton easily outpacing the defence to score his side's first try. Goode was on target with the extras, but could not find his range some moments later when a penalty kick went awry.

The home side struck again some four minutes later. After a sustained period of pressure, Goode put in a delightful cross-field kick which went straight into the arms of chasing centre Ben Johnson. Seeing his progress blocked by Phil Christophers, he fed to the oncoming winger O'Mahoney who crashed over for the try, duly converted by Goode.

Bristol clawed back three points courtesy of a Drahm penalty in the 27th minute to make it 14-10 and with the conditions deteriorating in the heavy rain, errors began to creep into the play of both sides with the opposing fly-halves increasingly opting to use the boot to attempt to gain territorial advantage.

Saracens increased their lead through an excellent long-range drop-goal from Goode just before the break and while Bristol made a deep incursion into the home side's half in the dying seconds of that first period, the score remained at 17-10 at half-time.

Almost immediately after the break, Drahm struck his second penalty to bring Bristol with four points of their opponents, but the game was then held up for five minutes as Bristol flanker Matt Salter received attention from the physio after falling awkwardly onto his shoulder. The No.6 – clearly in some discomfort – was eventually carried from the field on a stretcher, allowing play to continue.

Goode failed with a penalty kick in the 67th minute after Bristol wing David Rees body-checked Saracens flanker Richard Hill just outside the Shoguns' 22 and that seemed to spark Bristol into life.

The visitors charged down into the Saracens' half, Sheridan and Garath Archer making major yardage to set up another penalty attempt for Drahm. The fullback slotted the ball between the posts to put his side within a point of their hosts and set up a thrilling finale.

Now Saracens began to edge deeper and deeper into Bristol territory, but could not convert some excellent forward pressure into points, knocking on from an attacking scrum to hand the initiative back to Bristol.

From there on in the contest took on an air of desperation with neither side willing to go quietly into the night and every tiny incident assuming almost epic importance given the consequences of defeat.

After eight minutes of injury-time referee Tony Spreadbury finally blew the final whistle, leaving Bristol to contemplate the further struggles ahead of them as they continue to battle for their Premiership survival. The only consolation for the West Country side was that they managed a bonus point for losing by less than seven points, meaning that they have lifted themselves off the bottom of the Premiership table.

The scorers:

For Saracens:Tries: Haughton, O'MahoneyCon: Goode 2DG: Goode

For Bristol Shoguns:Try: SheridanCon: DrahmPens: Drahm 3

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