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Howard praises Vesty's performance

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Pat Howard saluted stand-in goal-kicker Sam Vesty after his injury-time penalty secured a precious Guinness Premiership victory away to Sale Sharks on Friday night.

Tigers had led 23-18 in the second half, but looked to be heading for defeat after referee Tony Spreadbury awarded a penalty try to the hosts in the dying minutes of the game. From the restart, however, Sharks were penalised and Vesty was given the chance to win the game with a 30-metre kick from left of the posts.

With one previous success from two attempts after moving from centre to fly-half following a first-half injury to Ian Humphreys, 25-year-old Vesty stayed cool and kicked Tigers into a one-point lead with the last meaningful action of an entertaining game.

"Sam is a very, very good footballer," said Tigers head coach Howard. "He is very solid, he stepped in at 10 and I thought he controlled the game very well.

"He is not a frontline kicker but he stepped up and took his chance. He put his hand up and had a fantastic game. Going back to his cricket days, he has the patience. He has a great temperament and he is a good student of the game. He appreciates what is needed under pressure."

The kick completed a third victory of the season over the defending Premiership champions, and kept Tigers on course for the play-offs.

A determined performance by a side showing 13 changes from the line-up which started against Stade Francais five days earlier featured a formidable defence and tries from back-row forwards Tom Croft and Luke Abraham. It also gave Howard further food for thought on his team selections heading into the most hectic and crucial part of the season in three competitions.

"We have come here without making many as many changes and not done so well before - I think our best result was a 3-3," he said. "But we kept the line intact other than the penalty try, and we defended very well. Then at the end, Sam kept his nerve and kicked a very good goal. It wasn't perfect, but we defended our hearts out and took our two opportunities well.

"Selection is a problem, but that is how we work the squad. We are looking to press the level so guys take the field and raise the standard and do the rest of the squad justice."

Humphreys, Gavin Hickie and Seru Rabeni were all replaced due to injury during Friday's win at Edgeley Park and Howard will have to check their fitness ahead of next Sunday's EDF Energy Cup Final and the succession of big games to follow.