Freeman try ruled out as Saints see winning run come to an end at Tigers
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The black, green and gold had fallen 19-3 down during the second half as Leicester Tigers turned up the heat with a hugely physical performance.
But Saints then threatened a comeback as George Furbank scored despite his side being down to 13 men due to sin-binnings for Sam Matavesi and Ethan Waller.
And then came the big talking point as Tommy Freeman dived over and celebrated, feeling he had cut the gap further, but referee Karl Dickson had blown his whistle before the ball was grounded, feeling there was a knock-on from Henry Pollock in the build-up.
Replays appeared to show that the ball had not been knocked on, but there was no changing the decision as the referee had already intervened.
Tigers then won a penalty at the resulting scrum and pushed up the field before Hanro Liebenberg took a quick tap penalty and dived over to make sure of the home victory.
Saints had the final say thanks to a well-worked score, finished by Matavesi, but they left Leicester with nothing to show for their efforts.
The home side had been dominant for long periods though, applying the pressure from the off as Furbank spilled a high ball and Saints were caught offside, allowing Handrè Pollard to put the home side ahead with a penalty.
Tigers were smothering Saints at every turn, and Pollard was putting the boot in, giving his side great field position with a kick to the corner.
The home pack turned up the heat, and hooker Charlie Clare thought he'd scored against his former club, but TMO Hamish Smales spotted the clear obstruction from Solomone Kata on Fraser Dingwall and the try was ruled out.
Tigers were smothering Saints at every turn, winning the battle of the breakdown, but when the home side overstepped the mark, Fin Smith went for goal from halfway. It was a superb kick and it levelled the scores.
Tigers were quickly back in front though as the home side earned a penalty at the scrum, meaning Pollard could add three points to his team's tally.
Pollard was at it again soon after, landing an effort from just inside his own half as Saints continued to give up penalties at the breakdown.
When Saints did finally get a chance to put some pressure on in home territory, the ball fell from their clutches, meaning Tigers could escape via a scrum penalty.
The home side soon won another one as Saints really started to struggle at the set piece, meaning Pollard could go for goal again, but this time he hit the left post.
Saints desperately needed a spark and they thought they had it when James Ramm chased a kick ahead from Smith and got fingertips to the ball but it was knocked on rather than grounded and Tigers were given the goal-line drop-out.
Saints booted the ball out for some sweet relief at the other end, bringing a half-time break that they would have hoped would give them some breathing space after a suffocating 40 minutes.
But there was little relief when the second half started as Tommy Reffell continued to wreak havoc at the breakdown, giving his side field position.
And they used that territorial dominance well, extracting another penalty from Saints, allowing Pollard to make it 12-3 from the tee.
Saints desperately tried to engineer a response in the home half, but they were gaining little ground and the attack ended with Smith kicking the ball dead as frustration grew.
Pollock was introduced for his Premiership debut in place of Tom Pearson, giving the 18-year-old a huge 30 minutes of action on derby day.
But Saints were soon under the cosh again, with Matavesi sin-binned for side entry as he tried to prevent a try on his own line.
Tigers sent on Dan Cole to a huge ovation from the home fans as they looked to turn the screw.
Saints were submerged, giving away penalty after penalty at the scrum.
And eventually Tigers forced their way over, with the inevitable try coming from former Saints prop Francois van Wyk.
Ethan Waller was sin-binned as the Saints offences continued in the build-up to the try, meaning the away side were down to 13 men with more than 22 minutes to go.
However, somehow Saints summoned a response, finally getting some momentum as some slick play allowed Furbank to score.
It was a good finish from the full-back, and he quickly added the conversion.
Saints were suddenly starting to show belief, and they were incredibly denied a try as referee Dickson deemed Pollock to have knocked on before Freeman finished things off.
The ball had appeared purely to have come off Pollock's leg, but the referee refused to change his decision and Tigers won a scrum penalty to escape.
Salt was rubbed in the wounds when Liebenberg scored from a quick tap penalty to put the seal on the Leicester win.
But Saints kept battling and after Alex Coles was denied a try by a TMO intervention, Matavesi finished off a flowing move from the final play of the game.
Furbank converted to cut the gap to nine points but the match was over and Saints would leave Leicester with nothing to show for their efforts.
Leicester Tigers: Steward (Shillcock 77); Bassett, Porter, Kata (Scott 58), Hassell-Collins; Pollard, Youngs (Whiteley 70); Cronin (van Wyk 51), Clare (Vanes 74), Heyes (Cole 54); Henderson (Carter 65), Chessum; Liebenberg (c), Reffell, Wiese (Rogerson 74).
Saints: Furbank; Hendy, Freeman, Dingwall (Sleightholme 71), Ramm; F Smith (Hutchinson 56), Mitchell; A Waller (E Waller 56), Langdon (S Matavesi 48), Davison (Millar Mills 57); Moon, Munga (Lockett 71); Coles, Pearson (Pollock 51), Ludlam (c).
Referee: Karl Dickson