A Friday the 13th handling horror show couldn’t stop Saints recording a 15-9 Aviva Premiership victory against London Irish at Franklin’s Gardens.
Jim Mallinder’s men squandered four good scoring opportunities on a night when holding onto the ball proved problematic.
But a fine finish from Ken Pisi and a Sam Dickinson effort from a trademark maul proved enough to overcome a gritty Irish side, for whom Shane Geraghty landed three penalties.
It was not a night to remember, with referee Andrew Small irking the home fans with his failure to hurry Irish up at the set piece.
He also attracted dissent for his decision not to dismiss Irish prop Tom Court for stamping on Saints tighthead Salesi Ma’afu, with both men sin-binned just before the break.
Nevertheless, table-toppers Northampton got the job done, ensuring they stretched their lead over Bath to five points, with the west country side travelling to Saracens on Sunday.
Saints will head to Bath next Saturday, hoping for a far slicker performance than they produced on this occasion.
Irish had been eager to make it a scrap and that was what they did in an opening 10 minutes saturated with scrums.
When Saints did try to step on the accelerator, Irish covered well to stop Jamie Elliott reaching his own grubber kick.
The away side were standing firm, with Topsy Ojo’s jackhammer hit on James Wilson a striking signal of their desire to go toe-to-toe with the champions on their own turf.
Saints were still seeking some inspiration when the 17th minute arrived, but Stephen Myler’s unusually inaccurate pass forced George Pisi to knock on with the line in sight.
A minute late, the same fate befell Wilson as Saints’ desire to move the ball with speed proved their undoing once again.
And it was to be third time unlucky for Saints and Tom Stephenson, who dropped the ball over the tryline after Irish 10 Shane Geraghty had himself failed to gather, presenting a clear chance to the centre.
Irish’s luck finally ran out 13 minutes before the break, as Myler placed a crossfield kick into the path of Ken Pisi, who dotted down in the nick of time.
It was a fantastic piece of finishing, which was so good it needed confirming by the TMO, who deemed Pisi had managed to reach the ball and touch it down before it went out of play.
Myler added the extras from the touchline and Saints were desperate to stamp their authority on the game.
But their sloppy handling continued to undermine them and after Wilson had knocked on under no pressure, Irish won a penalty at the scrum. Geraghty landed it with ease.
However, the fly-half was less accurate on the brink of half-time as he missed after Small had sin-binned a man from both sides.
The referee headed off the field with boos ringing in his ears after yellow carding Ma’afu for holding Irish prop Court, who was binned for a case of stamping that resembled a child jumping frantically on a bouncy castle.
Saints were eager to start fast in the second half but the handling horror show continued as Ken Pisi, struck by the curse, knocked on when he looked set for a simple try in the corner.
Saints needed to make something stick and after London Irish No.8 Tom Guest was sent to the sin bin, they finally did.
The home side decided sticking the ball up the jumper was the best policy and Sam Dickinson scored from an unstoppable maul.
Myler missed the kick, but his former team-mate, Geraghty, was more accurate at the other end soon after, landing a penalty to narrow the gap to six points.
Myler responded but Irish wouldn’t go away, with Geraghty again narrowing the gap from the tee.
That made for a nervous final 12 minutes for Saints, with Irish coming within inches of scoring a crucial try as George Skivington knocked the ball on at the last.
Irish also saw a lineout drive pushed into touch late on as Saints eventually mauled their way out of danger to secure the scrappiest of Gardens successes.
Saints: Wilson; K Pisi, G Pisi, Stephenson, Elliott; Myler, Fotuali’i (Dickson 56); A Waller(E Waller 68), Haywood, Ma’afu (Denman 49); Manoa, Day; Clark (Harrison 68), Dowson (c), Dickinson (Craig 63).
Replacements: Williams, Olver, Tuala.
London Irish: Fenby; Ojo, Mulchrone, Sheridan (Lewington 60), Fowlie; Gergahty, Steele (O’Leary 60); Court, Paice, Aulika (Palframan 50); Skivington (c), Sinclair (Cox 62); Treviranus, Gilsenan, Guest.
Replacements: Stevens, Halavatau, Narraway, Brophy-Clews.
Referee: Andrew Small