Northampton Saints 14 Exeter Chiefs 35: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings
It wasn't to be the pre-Christmas present the Saints supporters desperately craved.
Instead, Exeter Chiefs rocked up at Franklin's Gardens and served up another slice of disappointment.
For 40 minutes, the hopes of the home fans had risen at a steady rate, with Ahsee Tuala's well-worked try and Piers Francis's conversion putting Saints in contention.
Aside from the concession of a single try, expertly created and finished by scrum-half Will Chudley, they seemed to be coping well with the champions.
And had their lineout not faltered on a couple of occasions before the break, they may well have gone in ahead.
But Exeter did what champions do.
They soaked up the pressure that came their way and eventually landed the sucker punch.
After Gareth Steenson kicked an early penalty in the second period, the points only seemed to be going one way.
There was no gift wrapped in green, black and gold paper for the Saints fans, just another dose of reality as Exeter turned the screw.
Their forward pack cranked up the heat in the set piece and punctured the atmosphere with three further tries.
It earned the Chiefs another maximum haul in what is becoming another memorable season.
For Saints, it was the latest hammer blow in a campaign full of them.
And it just showed how the fortunes of the two clubs have differed since Saints topped the Aviva Premiership table in 2015.
Now Exeter are the perennial title contenders.
Now Exeter have the forward pack capable of crushing opposition sides.
And now Exeter have the impressive team unit to consistently challenge for silverware.
A few years ago, those descriptions applied to Saints.
But not any more.
They used to rock up at Sandy Park and bring out the big guns, rolling the Chiefs over in the maul and the scrum.
But those strengths are simply not present at the Gardens right now.
They will return at some point.
But it will not necessarily be soon.
It will require the recruitment of the right man for the director or rugby role and then a steady building process.
For now though, Saints would just take a win.
They have suffered defeat in 12 of their past 13 matches in all competitions, losing their last six Aviva Premiership games.
It has been a shocking spell and one that has been the gift that keeps on giving for opposition outfits.
Saints will hope to end the year on a slight high by beating Harlequins at Twickenham on Saturday.
But that is another big ask and they will need every ounce of spirit if they are to turn things around at English rugby HQ.
There were certainly signs of improvement during the first half against Exeter.
There was more defensive resilience and Exeter didn't score from every attack like some other sides have done against Saints in recent months.
But ultimately the outcome was the same.
Another bonus-point shipped and not a single one gained.
These are lean times at the Gardens.
And all anyone can do is hope that a new saviour can be brought in to sort things out after Christmas.
How they rated...
Was in the thick of the action early on, putting Exeter under pressure with some rapid breaks and doing some decent defensive work, one slip aside... 6
Finished off a flowing team move to bag Saints' first try, but wasn't able to get in the game during the second half as the Chiefs dominated... 5
Made some huge hits and his run and well-timed offload was crucial in setting up Tuala's try... 6
Made a few trademark bursts into Exeter territory, but didn't have much front-foot ball to work with in the second half... 5
Was forced to spend a spell in the sin bin during the second period and wasn't really able to make his mark on the game... 4
Played a useful part in Tuala's try with a tidy pass, but Exeter stopped Saints' half-backs getting into the game during the second period... 5
Didn't have too much to work with, but tried to bring a bit of intensity during the first period... 5
Put his body on the line during his first start of the season, desperately trying to use his physicality to blunt Exeter... 6
Not an easy day for Saints in the scrum and lineout, with the skipper unable to steady the ship on this occasion... 5
A difficult day for Saints in the scrum and every week is a learning experience for the club's props... 5
Always puts everything he has into his performances and he battled for every inch once again... 6
Was on the front foot as Saints scrapped for everything before the break, showing off his natural offloading game and using his power well... 6
Like Ratuniyarawa, he was able to have a say in the game, defending well and carrying with typical menace... 6
Gave away a couple of penalties, but didn't do too much wrong on another day when he put in a huge amount of effort... 5
Works so hard every week and is unfortunate to be part of a team that sees its effort go unrewarded when it comes to results... 6
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
MIKE HAYWOOD (for Hartley 57)
Came on at a time when Exeter were getting a real grip of the game and there was nothing the replacements could do about it... 5
PAUL HILL (for Ford-Robinson 57)
Saints looked to their bench to try to turn the tide up front, but Exeter simply went from strength to strength... 4
TOM WOOD (for Paterson 57)
Never short of work rate and effort, but Exeter's game plan worked as they tired Saints out and the replacements couldn't raise the bar... 5
CHRON STAR MAN - Don Armand (Exeter)