Leicester's Owen Williams proved it's not how you start, but how you finish as his pair of late penalties stole the points from another outstanding East Midlands derby.
The two sides traded six tries after a blistering opening from the Saints at the sun-kissed Gardens, but while Stephen Myler had his side in front with six to play, 14-man Tigers roared back ahead in the final three minutes.
It was the perfect start for the Saints. The returning Tom Wood and George North both shunted their way over the gainline and when Telusa Veainu misjudged Stephen Myler’s high bomb in the breeze, Nafi Tuitavake scooped up greatfully and strolled over beside the posts.
Myler converted but the seven-point lead was to be a short-lived one. Tigers pressed on the home 22 and while the phases racked up for little gain, the pressure eventually opened a gap for Adam Thompstone to streak through, Freddie Burns converting from straight in front.
It was end to end stuff and when Ace Tuala freed Louis Picamoles on the right, the Frenchman rounded his man, powered up the touchline and nonchalantly flicked back inside to the Samoan for a sublime score.
Again the visitors responded and while Thompstone was this time held up over the line, Burns clipped over six points from the tee when the Tigers twice gained the upper hand in the set-piece.
The second of those penalties brought Leicester back within a point, but also brought about the Saints’ third try of the afternoon. With the restart pinched, North made ground down his left wing and quick ball took them within touching distance, Picamoles this time going it alone.
Burns chipped into the advantage with a drop goal but it was the hosts making all the running with ball in hand. Only a forward flick from Nic Groom denied them a bonus penalty try when Ben Foden was pulled back off the ball but the good work still yielded three more points for Myler, advantage being played for a high tackle on North.
The TMO then intervened again to rule out Christian Day's effort on the stroke of the interval, the big lock stepping a foot in touch after a strong hit from JP Pietersen.
The first score after half-time looked crucial and despite a brilliant try saving tackle from Ben Foden on Laclan McCaffrey, it was to be Leicester's. A kick exchange ended when Pietersen countered at pace and freed up Ben Youngs, Owen Williams' conversion sneaking Tigers ahead for the first time only for Myler to edge the Saints back to the front almost immediately after the restart, the fly half chipping another over just minutes later as Saints knocked on the door for the elusive bonus try.
A breathless pace had returned to the game, Veainu and then Tuala both looking like scoring in a frantic 60 second spell, but both defences scrambling to come up trumps.
Mike Williams saw yellow just moments after coming onto the field for a shoulder charge into a ruck but with the wind whipping a Myler penalty wide right, it was the 14 men of Leicester who struck next to steal the lead. Veainu made the initial break and while Pietersen was superbly denied by Tuala and Courtney Lawes, Laclan McCaffrey eventually crossed in the corner.
Williams' brilliant conversion put Tigers two points up and though it was another short-lived advantage thanks to a fine Myler penalty from 40 metres, the Welshman restored the gap with a decent knock of his own.
The fly half then smashed one over from inside his own half, leaving the Saints with just seconds to find a winning score. While they would win the ball back via a penalty and play on with the clock deep into the red, one final foray into the visitors' 22 was fruitless and the top four again slipped agonisingly away.
2mins SAINTS Try Tuitavake Con Myler 7-0
6mins TIGERS Try Thompstone Con Burns 7-7
10mins SAINTS Try Tuala Con Myler 14-0
17mins TIGERS Pen Burns 14-10
22mins TIGERS Pen Burns 14-13
24mins SAINTS Try Picamoles 19-13
28mins TIGERS DG Burns 19-16
36mins SAINTS Pen Myler 22-16
HALF-TIME SAINTS 22-16 TIGERS
46mins TIGERS Try B Youngs C Williams 22-23
49mins SAINTS Pen Myler 25-23
56mins SAINTS Pen Myler 28-23
65mins TIGERS Miss pen Williams
69mins SAINTS Miss pen Myler
70mins TIGERS Try McCaffrey Con Williams 28-30
74mins SAINTS Pen Myler 31-30
78mins TIGERS Pen Williams 31-33
80mins TIGERS Pen Williams 31-36
FULL-TIME SAINTS 31-36 TIGERS
Tuala; Foden, Tuitavake, Mallinder, North; Myler, Groom; A Waller, Hartley, Brookes, Lawes, Day, Wood (capt), Clark, Picamoles
Haywood, E Waller, Hill, Gibson, Harrison, Dickson, Burrell, K Pisi
Veainu; Thompstone, Tait, Mermoz, Pietersen; Burns, B Youngs; Gänge, T Youngs (capt), Cole, Barrow, Kitchener, Fitzgerald, O’Connor, Hamilton
McGuigan, Rizzo, Cilliers, Williams, McCaffrey, White, Williams, Roberts