Dave Walder’s late drop goal saw Wasps end Sale’s unbeaten home record and claim their first away win of the Aviva Premiership Rugby season at Edgeley Park.
The Londoners had trailed 24-19 heading into the final quarter but fly-half Walder, who ended with 20 points, struck his fifth penalty before slotting the crucial kick from dead in front of the posts with just two minutes remaining. The win sees Wasps leapfrog Sale and climb to seventh in the table.
Walder's opposite number Charlie Hodgson marked his first start of the season with all his side's points in a flawless kicking display but it was not enough as Mike Brewer's side were denied at the death.
The scores had been level at 12-12 at half-time after a mistake-riddled first 40 minutes with Hodgson's four penalties being matched by Walder. Four further penalties from Hodgson had looked set to hand Sale the win, despite Wasps scoring the game's only try through Dan Ward-Smith, before Walder intervened.
A scrappy opening saw Hodgson and Walder convert two penalties apiece, with Hodgson's second coming from almost the halfway line.
A Sale line-out error gifted Wasps the first genuine attacking opportunity in the 16th minute, but the Sharks defence held firm against a series of close-range drives and the pressure was relieved as hooker Joe Ward was penalised for a double movement as he went for the line.
The Sharks made the most of that let off by tracking full-back Richard Haughton down yards from his own line to force a penalty, which Hodgson knocked over with ease. Walder then levelled the scores from wide out on the left in the 28th minute after a Sale hand illegally dragged the ball back in a ruck to concede the penalty.
The Londoners should then have had the chance to take the lead through Walder's boot after Sale captain James Gaskell was guilty of not rolling away at the tackle area, but Haughton's over-enthusiastic footwork on the prone lock saw the penalty reversed. And the visitors were made to pay for that moment of ill-discipline as Hodgson's fourth three-pointer re-established Sale's lead from the Sharks' next attack.
The game continued to be an error-strewn affair and the tit-for-tat scoring also remained as Walder levelled matters once again seconds before the break.
The Sharks began the second half poorly, losing possession on three straight line-out throws, but when they did finally secure set-piece possession they earned yet another penalty, and Hodgson was on target again to make it 15-12 after 47 minutes before adding a monster effort soon after to give the hosts a six-point advantage.
Walder could not match Hodgson's accuracy with a long-range effort of his own but Wasps hit back by scoring the game's opening try on 56 minutes. Sharks full-back Paul Williams deliberately flicked a David Lemi kick-ahead out of play to concede another penalty, and when Wasps took a scrum Ward-Smith flopped over the line, Walder converting to put the visitors in front.
But the lead proved short-lived as the frustrating stop-start nature of the contest continued as Wasps conceded a penalty from the restart, Hodgson immediately putting Sale back in front before Lemi spilt a high-ball to allow the stand-off to knock over penalty number eight.
Wasps' task became more difficult as replacement hooker Rob Webber was sent to the sin-bin for some back-chat towards referee David Rose, but Walder set up a tense finale with his fifth three-pointer with 10 minutes remaining. And the visitors claimed the win with a composed foray into the Sale 22, which ended with Walder striking the winning drop goal from in front of the sticks.