A record crowd roared Newcastle Falcons to a narrow 25-22 Aviva Premiership victory over Northampton at St James’ Park.
It might not have been quite the Toon Army of 52,000 Newcastle United pull in, but 30,174 turned up – more than twice the Falcons record – and they were rewarded by a gritty performance and six penalties and a conversion from former Newcastle United ball boy Toby Flood.
Newcastle thought they had made a sensational start with a Sinoti Sinoti try in the first minute but television replays showed a knock-on in the Chris Harris tackle which shook the ball loose for Sinoti to race away.
Flood landed a third minute penalty awarded for not rolling away and Sinoti went close again when Nili Latu broke through the middle and Newcastle moved it wide but the winger was hauled down close to the corner flag.
But it was Saints who had the first try on the board with a determined attack in which George North figured twice and ended with flanker David Ribbans forcing his way over for a try in the 10th minute.
Steve Myler missed the conversion and it proved costly when Saints conceded a penalty at the restart and Flood made it 6-5 to regain the lead.
Vereniki Goneva emerged from a ruck on the Northampton 22 and strolled in for a 20th minute try, which was onverted by Flood for 13-5 after Goneva celebrated with an Alan Shearer salute to the crowd.
Flood mishit a penalty chance on the half hour and then decided to go to the corner with his next kick. Michael Young broke the line but the chance was squandered with a knock on 10 metres from the Northampton line.
This time it was costly for Newcastle when Goneva spilled a Myler bomb. Rob Horne kicked it on and the same player later scored a try which Myler converted to make it 13-12.
Right on half-time Newcastle stepped up the pressure and Flood kicked a penalty to make to make 16-12 when Saints infringed yet again at the breakdown.
He quickly made it 19-12 with his fourth penalty for offside just after the break as Newcastle stepped up the pace.
But they lacked precision and when Northampton got into the Newcastle 22 they showed how to finish with a try from Nafi Tuitavake. Myler’s conversion from wide out levelled the scores at 19-19 in the 52nd minute.
Flood kicked his fifth penalty three minutes later to ease Newcastle back in front at 22-19 but then Myler levelled it again with a penalty from in front.
Flood hit the post with a penalty shortly afterwards and then launched a 45-metre kick to make it 25-22.
Newcastle seemed to have it sewn upon when they drove up to the line with seconds left but conceded a penalty.
Myler kicked deep into the Newcastle half and the Falcons had to battle hard to hang on for their win.