Bath’s stuttering season hit another low point as they surrendered a 10-0 half-time lead against Sale at the Recreation Ground.
It left the West Country club just seven points above bottom club Newcastle in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table and with a rash of injuries they seem in no great shape to mount a convincing challenge against Heineken Cup holders Leinster next week.
Sale's match-winner was fly-half Nick Macleod who shrugged off some early misses with the boot before kicking three penalties and converting Mark Cueto's 54th-minute try. Bath's points came from a Michael Claassens try, converted by Olly Barkley, who added two penalties.
Bath took the field knowing they needed to show far more urgency than they had at Worcester a week previously – Bath chairman Bruce Craig in his programme notes condemned that dismal showing as "unacceptable". The injury worries have continued to mount, however, with 13 players absent, including England's World Cup skipper Lewis Moody and New Zealand fly-half Stephen Donald.
With the squad already threadbare, Josh Ovens had to be recalled from a loan with Bristol in the Championship and 19-year-old hooker Will Tanner made his first start at this level.
Apart from some strong carries by Sale's Andy Powell at number eight, Bath made all the early running, mainly through Nick Abendanon on the left wing.
Barkley, making his first start since breaking his leg last March, prodded the home team into the right areas with his left boot and opened the scoring with a penalty after 10 minutes when Stuart Hooper was upended at a line-out.
The first try came nine minutes later after Matt Banahan barged through on the right. The attack appeared to have lost momentum as Claassens wriggled free from a ruck to find a clear route to the line. Barkley added the points.
Bath continued to dominate and on the odd occasion when pressed into defence, broke from deep with pace and purpose. Abendanon tried one dummy too many on an elusive crossfield foray and Sale flanker David Seymour had to be at his most alert when Tom Heathcote broke dangerously.
It was seven minutes into the second half before Sale put points on the board, Macleod kicking a penalty from 25 metres after missing two earlier efforts. That score gave the Sharks confidence to take the initiative and a Powell pick-up at a scrum almost caught Bath napping as Cueto chased a chip by Dwayne Peel only to see the ball run dead. But the England wing was not to be denied.
A couple of minutes later, the 20-stone Tony Buckley rumbled into the Bath 22 and when the ball was moved left, Cueto dummied his way over and Macleod landed a difficult conversion to tie the scores.
Bath responded with a change of front row, bringing on US Eagles hooker Chris Biller for his debut, and a 65th-minute Barkley penalty edged Bath 13-10 ahead.
But Sale were a far more determined outfit than they had been in the first half and when lock Kearnan Myall broke free, Jack Cuthbert had to make a decisive tackle at full-back. The visitors were rewarded with a penalty at the breakdown and Macleod evened things up again.
Bath's scrum, rock solid all game, suddenly fell apart at the next heel and Macleod put his side ahead for the first time with just eight minutes remaining.
Back came the home side and Heathcote cut through only to be brought down under the posts. As he was helped off, Barkley opted to kick for the corner and Bath battered away through their forwards, eventually forcing a five-metre scrum with 90 seconds on the clock. Finally, Claassens lost possession in a desperate lunge for the line and Sale claimed the victory.