Sale boss Steve Diamond was left feeling a mixture of disappointment and pride after seeing his side stage a brilliant comeback against Newcastle only to end up suffering a last-gasp defeat.
The Sharks trailed 25-0 inside 30 minutes against a rampant Falcons side at Kingston Park but then managed to turn the game on its head with 27 unanswered points.
But, with a remarkable victory within their sights, Sale were hit with a sucker punch as Newcastle prop Rob Vickers crossed late on to snatch a 35-30 victory for the home side.
Diamond, Sale’s director of rugby, said: “We weren’t at the races in the first 20 minutes and you can’t afford to go 25 points down against a top-four side.
“In the second half we controlled the game for 35 minutes and then didn’t for the last five minutes.
“I’m disappointed but proud of the way the lads played. We just gave too much away in the first 20 minutes and then came back but just didn’t close the game out.”
Newcastle’s victory lifted them up to third in the Aviva Premiership table with Sale remaining down in sixth, five points behind the Falcons in the race for the play-offs.
While Diamond was understandably disappointed with the result, his opposite number Dean Richards was happy – and relieved – after Vickers scored his close-range clincher in the 78th minute.
“He’s a lovely bloke, but most of Rob’s scores have come from about 30 centimetres,” said director of rugby Richards. “But we’re delighted he was in the right place at the right time.
“I thought we were outstanding in the first 20 minutes of the first half and not so much in the second half but then we woke up.
“The guys that came on had a big impact and changed the game.”
Newcastle have a tough run in with Premiership games at Leicester and home to Wasps, plus a European Challenge Cup semi-final at Gloucester.
Richards added: “There’s no easy games at this stage of the season when you’re in the position we’re in – Sale, Leicester and Wasps on the last day of the season – they’re all quality teams and difficult to beat and Sale are a quality side with quality players.
“I don’t think we’ll have a problem with the players getting tired. Some of them have just come back into the side and some won’t be able to be considered for the semi-final because of the squad rules.”