Kieran Brookes was sent off against his former club as Saints suffered a disappointing 22-16 defeat to Newcastle Falcons at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night.
Jim Mallinder’s men were 8-3 down when Brookes was dismissed by referee Andrew Jackson for a forearm charge to the face of Falcons hooker Scott Lawson.
But Saints battled in spirited fashion after the break and the 14 men did lead when skipper Christian Day scored and Stephen Myler added a conversion and a penalty.
Newcastle eventually made their man advantage count though as Will Witty grabbed a try and Joel Hodgson a conversion.
Myler responded with a penalty to make it 16-15 with nine minutes to go, but former Leicester wing Vereniki Goneva intercepted a Tom Kessell pass and beat an attempted Ben Foden tackle to score.
Hodgson converted to put his team six points up with three minutes to go, and Saints couldn’t summon one last fightback as their four-match winning streak ended.
Newcastle, in their eye-catching orange shirts, had started brightly and after Goneva missed the chance to find Mark Wilson for a two on one, the former Leicester wing eventually offloaded to Hodgson, who scored.
It was a special moment for Hodgson on his return to the Gardens, but he badly skewed his attempted touchline conversion to leave the gap at five points after as many minutes.
Saints were struggling to get going and after Goneva again broke through, Marcus Watson dived over in the corner.
But the score was ruled out for a block on Luther Burrell by Juan Pablo Socino in the build-up.
Saints eventually got some possession in a dangerous area and after the Falcons fluffed a lineout and conceded a penalty, Myler grabbed the home side’s first three points.
Foden was soon celebrating as though he’d scored his team’s first try, but he didn’t get downward pressure on Tom Collins’ kick ahead and the TMO deemed there was no score.
Goneva was relieved as he had moved with the haste of a snail towards the ball, allowing Foden slight chance, which the full-back so nearly took.
Aside from that unneccessary scare, the Falcons looked controlled and they soon had more points to their name as Hodgson landed a penalty.
And a bad half for Saints was about to get even worse when prop Brookes was sent off for a forearm to the face of Lawson at a ruck.
There was shock all around at the Gardens as supporters had expected the referee to produce a yellow card, but Brookes would not be allowed back on against his old club.
Saints were five points down at the break, but, galvanised by Brookes’ dismissal, the 14-man home side were to lead five minutes into the second period.
Captain Day muscled his way over for Saints’ 1,000th Premiership try, and Myler’s conversion made it 10-8 to Jim Mallinder’s men.
Saints replaced lock James Craig with Paul Hill to fill the front row void left by Brookes, and centre Burrell joined in at scrum time to add weight to the home pack.
And Saints were to win a penalty at the scrum soon after, with Myler landing it to make it 13-8.
The fly-half was starting to pull the strings, putting his side in the right positions and pinning the Falcons back.
But eventually Newcastle found their feet in the second half and after Day was forced off, the Falcons scored, with lock Witty forcing his way over the line.
Hodgson kicked the conversion to give the away side a 15-13 lead, but Myler responded with a penalty to put his team a point up with nine minutes remaining.
However, it wasn’t to be for Saints as Kessell’s pass only found the hands of Goneva and he flew away from inside his own half, beating the despairing dive of Foden to score.
The Saints full-back smashed his fist into the ground in frustration at missing the tackle and Hodgson kicked the conversion to put the icing on the Newcastle cake.
Saints: Foden; Elliott, Burrell, Hutchinson (Wilson 66), Collins; Myler, Kessell; A Waller (E Waller 68), Haywood, Brookes; Craig (Hill 47), Day (c) (J Onojaife 62); Paterson, Gibson, Nutley (Ludlum 74).
Newcastle Falcons: Tait; Goneva, Waldouck (Burdon 25), Socino, Watson (Connon 61); Hodgson, Young; Vickers, Lawson (Sowrey 73), D Wilson (S Wilson 58); Green, Witty (Civetta 73); Chick (Fonua 62), M Wilson (c), Hogg.
Referee: Andrew Jackson