"Alan Partridge is in the south stand," the gentleman on the public address system announced at half-time. "Happy birthday to him." Sadly for Carlos Spencer, there was to be no happy return to Franklin's Gardens on Saturday. For the former darling of the Saints fans, and for his club of three months, the afternoon's mission proved to be as successful as the attempt by Steve Coogan's alter ego to steal a traffic cone on the outskirts of Norwich. They, too, ended up empty handed and in rather a spot of bother.
It might have been different for Gloucester – even after the nightmare start in which they shipped 17 points in as many minutes – had Ryan Lamb not struck the right post with a penalty, the left post with a conversion attempt and then shanked a near-cert of a penalty three minutes into the second-half. Together, those kicks could have put the Cherry and Whites 27-23 up and left them well-placed to pluck the victory required to keep their play-off fate in their own hands. As it was, even with Spencer on at fly-half for the fitful Lamb from the 46th minute, Dean Ryan's men were unable to get the grip they needed to grasp their first league win on the road in 2009.
In the points-fest of the first-half, they had leaked tries to Paul Diggin and Dylan Hartley but hit back with three scores of their own, courtesy of prop Nick Wood, lock Will James and wing Mark Foster. In the second-half, though, all Gloucester managed was a long-range penalty from Olly Barkley before Saints finished with a flourish, the rampaging Bruce Reihana running in a try and setting up Diggin's second.
All of which left Gloucester fifth in the table, four points from a play-off place with a home game against Worcester and a trip to Wasps to come. "We're too much Jekyll and Hyde," Gareth Delve, their No 8 and stand-in captain, reflected. "We've gone from nilling the Ospreys last week to shipping 40 points here. We need to go back to the drawing board and be honest with ourselves."
Northampton: Tries Diggin 2, Hartley, Reihana. Conversions Myler 2, Everitt 2. Penalties Myler 4.
Gloucester: Tries Wood, James, Foster. Conversions Lamb 2. Penalty Barkley.
Northampton: B Foden; P Diggin (C Mayor, 79), J Ansbro, J Downey, B Reihana (capt); S Myler (B Everitt, 76), L Dickson (A Dickens, 78); S Tonga'uiha (T Smith, 76), D Hartley (B Sharman, 67), E Murray, C Lawes (I Fernandez-Lobbe, 60), J Kruger, N Best, S Gray, R Wilson (M Easter, 72).
Gloucester: O Morgan; C Sharples, M Watkins, A Allen (O Barkley, 46), M Foster; R Lamb (C Spencer, 46), R Lawson (G Cooper, 73); N Wood (C Nieto, 46) O Azam (S Lawson, 55; S Lawson for Azam, 79), G Somerville (Wood 76), W James (M Bortolami, 70), A Brown, A Strokosch (A Hazell, 20), A Qera, G Delve (capt).
Referee: A Small (RFU).