Leicester Tigers' chances of progression into the EDF Energy Cup semi-finals were slim at best, and they would have been one try short even if results had gone their way, after beating Sale 30-20 at Welford road on Friday but only scoring three tries.
An injury-time try from substitute Jordan Crane put a gloss on an unconvincing Tigers performance and Cardiff's win over Bath meant Leicester failed to get out of the group stages for the first time in three years.
A scratch Sale side came away from the game with a lot of credit and Chris Bell's brace of tries kept them in the game right up to the closing seconds.
With little or no hope of reaching the semi-finals, both sides took the chance to rest key players.
There was still plenty of quality on show, however, with the likes of Dwayne Peel and Jason White starting for Sale and England World Cup winner Lewis Moody in the Tigers rank.
It was the 30-year-old openside's first start in nine months having undergone operations to both Achilles and hip.
And he was soon in action from a bouncing kick-off as Leicester launched a dangerous attack which only ended when Johne Murphy knocked-on five metres out.
Sale also began in enterprising fashion, turning down an early penalty right in front of the posts in favour of a tap which ultimately came to nothing.
Leicester's South African fly-half Derick Hougaard - making his first appearance in front of the Welford Road crowd - opening the scoring with a 40-metre penalty on 10 minutes and added to it three minutes later to put his side 6-0 up.
Tigers marched down field from the resulting kick-off and, when Sale's scrum disintegrated for a third time near their own line, prop Rob O'Donnell was shown a yellow card.
Flanker Michael Hills made way for substitute prop Ross Davies but it did his pack little good as they popped up from the set piece once more and referee James Jones awarded a penalty try which Hougaard converted.
Phillipe Saint Andre's men blew a wonderful chance to get back in the game on 25 minutes. Seru Rabeni was caught trying to run the ball out of his own 22 and turned over but Rudi Keil's pass to Ed Styles flew straight into touch.
Tigers fly-half Julien Dupuy limped off just before the break after picking up a knock at the bottom of a ruck and was replaced by 19-year-old Ben Youngs.
Sale began the second half full of confidence and Nick McLeod got the scoreboard ticking over with penalties on 44 and 46 minutes to pull it back to 13-6.
Four minutes later, it was very much game on when Bell hacked forward a Tigers knock-on in midfield and had just enough gas to outrun Tom Varndell and win the dive for the touchdown. McLeod levelled the scores by converting the extras.
The score stung Tigers into action and they regained their lead on 56 minutes. Moody fed Varndell who kicked forward, gathered and passed to Tom Youngs who powered over from five metres out. Hougaard's kick made it 20-13.
But Sale refused to lay down and they levelled again with 12 minutes to go. Another mistake in midfield allowed Bell to gather a high ball and sprint in from 50 metres out. McLeod kicked the conversion to make it 20-20.
A Hougaard penalty settled the home side's nerves and Crane made the most of a mix-up in the Sale three-quarters to dive under the posts with the last action of the game. Hougaard's sixth successful kick of the evening finished the scoring.
Tries: penalty try, Youngs, Crane
Cons: Hougaard 3
Pens: Hougaard 3
Tries: Bell 2
Cons: MacLeod 2
Pens: MacLeod 2
Yellow card: O'Donnell (17, Sale)
Leicester: 15 Matt Smith, 14 Johne Murphy, 13 Seru Rabeni, 12 Tom Youngs, 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Derick Hougaard, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Craig Newby, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Brett Deacon, 5 Ben Kay (c), 4 Richard Blaze, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Boris Stankovich.
Replacements: 16 Mefin Davies, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Marco Wentzel, 19 Jordan Crane, 20 Ben Youngs, 21 Ayoola Erinle, 22 Sam Vesty.
Sale Sharks: 15 David Doherty, 14 Selorm Kuadey, 13 Rudi Keil, 12 Chris Bell, 11 Ed Styles, 10 Nick McLeod, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Carl Fearns, 7 Michael Hills, 6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 5 Dean Schofield, 4 Jason White, 3 Stuart Turner, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Rob O'Donnell.
Replacements: 16 Dan Ward, 17 Ross Davies, 18 James Gaskell, 19 David Tait, 20 Will Cliff, 21 Mark Atkinson, 22 Jonny Kennedy.
Referee: James Jones (Wales)
Touch judges: Huw David (Wales), David Williams (Wales)
Assessor: Brian Leigh (England)
Television match official: Brian Abrahams (England)