Bath gave their EDF Energy Cup hopes a boost with an away 24-21 victory over Sale Sharks at Edgeley Park on Friday.
The result was even more impressive as Bath came back from 13-0 down after 25 minutes after Charlie Hodgson inspired the hosts into a commanding lead. But the sin-binning of forward Brent Cockbain shortly before the break proved costly for Sale.
Stuart Hooper touched down for Bath to reduce the arrears and second-half scores from Shontayne Hape and Michael Stephenson put the visitors home and dry before Chris Bell's second try for Sale ensured a tense finale.
The early exchanges were all about Hodgson, who had failed to make the starting line-up for Sale's two previous encounters, both key matches in the Heineken Cup.
The Yorkshireman has endured a torturous few months, having been axed from the England squad following his part in the abject surrender to New Zealand in Auckland in June and then losing his place at Sale.
His perceived defensive weaknesses remain but few players kick the ball out of hand better than Hodgson, who struck a superb penalty from distance to put Sale ahead in the second minute.
He was soon into his stride, bossing proceedings with a steady stream of probing kicks which asked questions of Bath.
Hodgson added a second penalty in the eighth minute and showed some delightful handling skills to orchestrate several flowing moves which should have reaped greater reward.
One such move saw him collect a neat short offload from stand-in scrum-half Chris Leck and throw an exquisite long pass out to Bell, but the centre could not take the pass in his stride.
However, Bell was on hand to finish off a fine counter-attack in the 24th minute and Hodgson was again the orchestrator. He kicked cleverly downfield, Mark Cueto gave chase and scooped the ball before finding the onrushing Bell advancing forward at pace who crossed the line with ease.
Hodgson converted to give Sale a commanding 13-0 advantage but Bath hit back after Sharks forward Cockbain was sent to the sin bin for fighting shortly before the break.
Hooper quickly barged his way over for Bath and full-back Jack Cuthbert converted to cut the gap to six points at half-time.
A Hodgson penalty gave Sale further breathing space shortly after the restart but rugby league convert Hape crossed from close range in the 53rd minute and Stephenson found a gap in the left corner to squeeze over four minutes later.
Cuthbert converted for the third time to put Bath into a commanding lead but Sale hit back again when Hodgson's long pass allowed Bell to claim his second in the right corner, though the number ten could not convert.
Tries: Bell 2
Pen: Hodgson 3
Tries: Hooper, Hape, Stephenson
Con: Cuthbert 3
Sale: 15 Nick MacLeod, 14 Mark Cueto, 13 Chris Bell, 12 Andy Tuilagi, 11 Nick Royle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Chris Leck, 8 Carl Fearns, 7 David Tait, 6 Jason White, 5 Brent Cockbain, 4 Dean Schofield, 3 Martin Halsall, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Rob O'Donnell.
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Stuart Turner, 18 James Gaskell, 19 Michael Hills, 20 Will Cliff, 21 Rudi Keil, 22 Rory Lamont.
Bath: 15 Jack Cuthbert, 14 Rhys Crane, 13 Tom Cheeseman, 12 Shontayne Hape, 11 Michael Stephenson, 10 Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, 9 Scott Bemand , 8 Daniel Browne, 7 Michael Lipman (c), 6 Josh Ovens, 5 Stuart Hooper, 4 Justin Harrison, 3 Duncan Bell, 2 Rob Hawkins, 1 David Barnes.
Replacements: 16 Lee Mears, 17 Paulica Ion, 18 Nathan Catt, 19 Scott Hobson, 20 James Scaysbrook, 21 Mike Baxter, 22 Robbie Kydd.
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Touch judges: Ashley Rowden (England), Don Helme (England)
Assessor: Brian Leigh (England)
Television match official: Andy Turner (England)