Northampton are embroiled in local politics over the planned expansion of their stadium, but while their chairman Keith Barwell mocked the "Fib Dems" in his programme notes, the director of rugby, Jim Mallinder, faced the home truths of only a fourth defeat at Franklin's Gardens since March 2007. "It's not a case of alarm bells ringing," said Mallinder. "You've just got to be accurate and perform every time you go out on the field."
This time last year the then Premiership leaders, Saracens, had 38 points from 10 matches – the same as Northampton now – before they lost to London Irish and Leicester, and eventually missed out on a home semi-final. A defeat for Mallinder's men at Leicester next Saturday would raise fears of a similar fate. The likes of Courtney Lawes and Soane Tonga'uiha looked a half-beat off the pace; victims, perhaps – and ironically – of a heavy workload in the first half of the season interrupted by the postponement of the Boxing Day fixture at Gloucester.
Quins were justified in their belief they could force penalties out of the Saints at the breakdown. Jordan Turner-Hall at centre and Chris Robshaw in the back row relished the physical confrontation. Losing two men to the sin-bin in the minute before half-time was not part of the plan, but the visitors emerged from the 10 minutes they were short with the loss of only seven points to a penalty try converted by Steve Myler. During the "power-play" period of 15 men versus 13, Northampton wasted a couple of great positions. An overlap went unused by Lawes, while at a scrum near the Quins 22, Northampton's eight men were penalised for engaging early against their opponents' six.
Danny Care's charge-down try levelled the scores at 10-10 after 52 minutes, and Nick Evans' second and third penalties to one in reply by Shane Geraghty, helped complete the job. Ugo Monye, the Quins wing in his second match back after 16 weeks out with a toe injury, ranked this win with the famous Heineken Cup victories over Stade Français in 2008. "There's a lot of young boys in our team but we didn't look too flustered when we went down to 13 men," said Monye.
Scorers: Northampton - Try: penalty try. Conversion: Myler. Penalties: Myler, Geraghty. Harlequins- Try: Care. Conversion: Evans. Penalties: Evans 3.
Northampton: B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke (J Ansbro, 70), J Downey, P Diggin; S Myler (S Geraghty, 70), L Dickson; S Tonga'uiha, D Hartley (capt), B Mujati, C Lawes, C Day (M Sorenson, 61), P Dowson, T Wood (C Clark, 61), R Wilson.
Harlequins: M Brown; T Williams, G Lowe, J Turner-Hall, U Monye; N Evans, D Care; J Marler, M Cairns (C Brooker, 60), J Andress (M Lambert, 63), O Kohn, G Robson (T Vallejos, 51), T Guest (Lambert, 39-49; W Skinner, 74), C Robshaw (capt), N Easter.
Referee: D Richards (Berkshire).