Leicester Tigers paid a high price for failing to close out the game against Newcastle Falcons on Friday evening after holding a 10-point lead in the second half.
Tries from Jonny May – his 50th in Premiership rugby – and then Mike Fitzgerald helped to put Tigers 23-13 in front in the clash between two teams chasing a place in the semi-finals. But Falcons fought back with a second try of the night from Vereniki Goneva and then levelled the scores with an 80th-minute try from Ally Hogg before the conversion clinched a 25-23 victory.
The result took Falcons into third place in the table, five points clear of Tigers, in the standings with just one round remaining, while Wasps in fourth place are at homer to Northampton today (Sunday).
Tigers head coach Matt O’Connor said: “You cannot leave teams alive in the last minutes of a game. It’s gut-wrenching.
“At different stages we probably did enough to win the game, but you cannot leave Falcons in it and give them opportunities at the end. They were good enough to take them, fair play to them.
“We didn’t start well enough, we gave them a soft score and we had opportunities in the second half to close out the game and didn’t take them.
“At 23-13 we were doing enough, we had a couple of opportunities, they gave away five penalties in the scrum, then there’s the Sione Kalamafoni yellow card. We have to manage those situations better.
“If you leave a game alive anyone can beat you in this league.”
Referee Luke Pearce spoke at length with the television match official before finally confirming Hogg’s decisive score, dotting down at a ruck on the Tigers tryline with the clock already beyond 80 minutes.
"There are a couple of big calls in the game by the TMO but you’ve got to take the officials out of it and when you have your opportunities you have to be more accurate,” added O’Connor.
“There are very, very tight margins, with the Saints game and tonight. But we have to be better, especially at home.
“It was always going to be difficult in the conditions, it wasn’t going to be around ball movement and playing off the edges. I don’t think we did it too badly and ball carrying was good but we didn’t get enough pay when we had the opportunity to get points.
“Newcastle were courageous, they lost their 10 and their tighthead in the first half but they stayed in it.
“There is a lot of disappointment in the dressing room. The boys are gutted we didn’t put out the performance we wanted and needed, and there is a lot of disappointment with that.”
Tigers go to Sale Sharks in Round 22 next Saturday, while Newcastle host Wasps and Gloucester go to Saracens in the other games affecting European Champions Cup qualification places.