Northampton Saints 22 Newcastle Falcons 24: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Michael Paterson and Saints were beaten for the fifth successive league game (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Michael Paterson and Saints were beaten for the fifth successive league game (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

Prior to their game at Sixways a few weeks ago, Saints were steeling themselves for three 'massive weeks'.

But with those weeks having now elapsed, all they have to show for their efforts is two losing bonus points and a sizeable slice of regret.

Saints have been beaten by Worcester Warriors, Sale Sharks and Newcastle Falcons - three teams who had been below them in the table going into this block of league games.

And though they should have beaten the Falcons at Franklin's Gardens on Friday night, there can be little consolation.

The fact is, Saints are stuck in a rut.

And it is up to someone at the club to find a solution.

Because Northampton is not a club that expects to lose to the teams it has been beaten by.

Yes, Newcastle is a club on the up.

But Northampton should be, too.

Northampton is a club with a rich history. A history that includes a Heineken Cup triumph in 2000 and an Aviva Premiership victory in 2014.

Jim Mallinder, who took over during the summer of 2007, secured the second of those crowns, building a formidable force that was feared up and down the country.

Sadly, since the club finished top of the table for the first time, in 2015, Saints' halo has slipped.

They finished fifth a year later and seventh last season, needing play-off matches to qualify for the Champions Cup.

And the way this season is going, there will be no such saving grace to preserve their place among Europe's elite.

But following defeats to some of the league's lesser lights, they don't currently deserve to be there.

There is no lack of pride and passion, two of the qualities etched into Saints' soul.

But the direction and the ability to translate a quality teamsheet into quality performances is lacking.

It means fans are becoming increasingly disillusioned, with some voting with their feet and others with their vocal chords.

Boos could be heard at the final whistle at Franklin's Gardens on Friday night and it is clear frustration is beginning to bubble over.

Social media is awash with calls for change, and those calls are growing ever louder.

Everyone of a green, black and gold persuasion would dearly love for the current setup to bring about that change on the field.

But after eight defeats in nine matches and five successive league losses, it becomes increasingly difficult to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Saints seemed to have turned the corner in September.

A cloud appeared to have been lifted from above the Gardens, with the attacking game starting to click and the wins starting to flow.

Four victories in a row brought plenty of cheer, but they have so far proved to be the only real highs in a season of lows.

Saints have won just once in nine games since the victory against Harlequins on September 30.

And that single success was against a below-par Dragons team, in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, at home.

It is barely a beacon of light amid the darkness.

Last week's performance at Sale was slightly more encouraging, as Saints scrapped for everything and were unfortunate not to secure a late win.

They then needed to come home and produce a commanding display against a Newcastle team who had also lost their past four league matches.

And though they did manage to dominate for spells of the game, and they were denied three scores by TMO David Grasshoff, they simply couldn't kill the Falcons off.

Once again, they were made to pay.

The late Nili Latu try and match-winning conversion from Sonatane Takulua were two more daggers into a heart that is beating ever more slowly.

It was a fourth successive win for the Falcons against Saints, a record you would never have imagined a few years ago.

But that is the point - a few years ago, Saints were capable of bossing many a team in Europe.

Now they are struggling to boss a single one in England's top tier.

It has been some fall from grace and it will take some turning around.

Everyone can have their say on how that can be achieved.

But only those within the Gardens walls are in a position to affect it.

How they rated...

Has started to establish himself at full-back and grabbed a try with a clever dummy during the first half... 7

Always tries to run the ball, but on this occasion he was met with green and grey brick walls time and time again... 6

Made a couple of typically big tackles, but wasn't able to have the impact in attack that he would have liked... 6

Was unfortunate to be forced off with an injury early in the second half, denying him a chance to really make his mark... 6

Couldn't really make any impact, despite doing his best to use the small amount of space afforded to him.... 6

A really tough 40 minutes for the young fly-half, who was targeted by Newcastle and will learn a lot from this... 5

Couldn't really get a grip on the game as the Falcons stopped him getting the kind of space where he can be dangerous... 6

Was making his 150th consecutive Premiership appearance and still has plenty in the tank as he made one eye-catching break and put in a strong performance across the park... 7

The captain popped up with what looked likely to be the winning try, and he was also denied another, which could have been given.. 7

Is certainly growing into life as a Saint and this was a decent enough showing overall... 6

Produced one tidy offload during the first half and did plenty of hard graft in a steady display... 6

Has not deserved to be on the losing team so often for Saints this season as he very rarely fails to impress, putting in big performance after big performance... 7

Always carries the fight for Saints, frantically trying to get his team on the front foot throughout... 6

Made plenty of metres for his team as he spotted open space and made a dash for it in another eventful display... 7

Always gives everything he's got, but Newcastle dealt with his threat well, shackling him before he could make too many yards... 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

PIERS FRANCIS (for Grayson 40)

Provided added assurance at fly-half, raising questions as to why he didn't start as he came on and kicked a penalty and conversion that had looked likely to win the game... 7

Saints were frustrated by the Falcons (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Saints were frustrated by the Falcons (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

CHRON STAR MAN - Sinoti Sinoti (Newcastle Falcons)

Jamie Gibson tried to get to grips with the Falcons

Jamie Gibson tried to get to grips with the Falcons

Piers Francis came off the bench at half-time and kicked a penalty and conversion

Piers Francis came off the bench at half-time and kicked a penalty and conversion