Harry Mallinder was in the right place at the right time again for Saints as he helped secure a vital bonus-point 29-23 win against Harlequins at Franklin’s Gardens on Sunday afternoon.
Mallinder, who had come on for Luther Burrell with 13 minutes remaining, made the most of good work from Samoan wing Ken Pisi to charge in for a crucial 73rd-minute try.
It stretched Saints’ lead to nine points and added to earlier efforts from Alex Waller, Courtney Lawes and Ben Foden, ensuring Jim Mallinder’s men earned a maximum haul.
Quins had threatened to avenge last month’s dramatic 27-23 defeat to Saints, with tries from Tim Visser and Jack Clifford putting them in control.
Clifford’s effort had put Conor O’Shea’s men eight points ahead early in the second half, but Saints stormed back, showing real spirit to earn a first league double of the campaign.
The victory moved Northampton above Leicester into fourth, with the Tigers having lost 27-20 at Sale Sharks earlier in the day.
Saints had gone into the match knowing only five points would do if they were to return to the play-off positions, but they lost lock Christian Day to illness before the kick-off.
England star Lawes came into the side, with Victor Matfield on the bench.
But it was Quins who started the stronger as they dominated the early territory and eventually earned a penalty, which Ben Botica landed.
Stephen Myler had the chance to respond immediately, but, with the wind swirling around, he fired his effort wide.
Saints didn’t have to wait long for their first points though as a slick move from right to left ended with Lawes sending prop Waller over for the score.
Myler missed the conversion and Quins were soon back in the lead as Saints were adjudged to have offended at the lineout and Botica slotted his second penalty from where he landed his first.
But again Saints were quickly back at the visitors’ door, displaying plenty of aggression to gain metres and after a lineout was snaffled by Teimana Harrison, Lawes popped up to score his first try since September 2012 and only his fourth in 167 appearances.
Myler managed to secure his first points of the afternoon with the conversion and Saints held a 12-6 lead after 25 minutes.
But in what was turning into a real rollercoaster encounter, Quins edged back in front nine minutes later as wing Visser slipped through a sleeping Saints defence to dot down.
Botica converted with ease to put his side back in front and they stood tall to ensure they would preserve their lead going into the break.
Saints were hit with a blow at half-time as Jamie Gibson was forced off, meaning Sam Dickinson entered the action and influential No.8 Harrison moved to the flank.
And Quins struck at the start of the second half as flanker Clifford slipped past Kieran Brookes and surged clear to register.
Botica’s conversion meant the men in white suddenly held an eight-point lead, giving Saints a mountain to climb.
Myler helped them begin to scale it as he landed a penalty and they were soon putting more pressure on but a Ken Pisi knock-on ended a flowing move.
But Saints weren’t disheartened and they kept coming.
Luther Burrell got them over the gainline and a fine move ended with a great offload from Mike Haywood, who handed the ball to Foden for a trademark finish.
The Saints fans groaned as the conversion looked to be drifting wide, but it was an expert effort from Myler, who slotted it with aplomb to earn his team the lead once more.
Saints were now firmly on the front foot and after introducing Campese Ma’afu they won a penalty at the scrum, with the Fijian prop enjoying a good early moment on debut.
But after going for the corner, the home side were unable to make the lineout drive pay as Quins held out.
And at the other end, the visitors had two chances to go back in front, but Botica hit the post with his first penalty attempt and fired wide with his second.
That second miss was met with cheers from the home fans and the noise levels soon increased further as a neat piece of play from Ken Pisi sent replacement Mallinder over.
It was a vital try for Saints, securing the bonus point, and Myler’s superb conversion stretched the lead to nine points.
Quins mounted one last charge, earning a penalty, which Botica landed to take his team into losing bonus-point territory.
But Saints saw out the final minute to earn a vital five points that pushed them back up into the play-off positions.
Saints: Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell (Mallinder 67), North; Myler, Dickson (c) (Fotuali’i 60); Waller (Ma’afu 60), Haywood (Marshall 79), Brookes (Hill 47); Craig, Lawes; Gibson (Dickinson 40), Wood, Harrison.
Harlequins: Brown; Walker, Marchant, Roberts, Visser; Botica, Care (c); Marler, Gray (Ward 60), Collier (Sinckler 60); Merrick, Horwill; Clifford, Wallace, Easter (Robshaw 52).
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth