Saints 28 Wigan Warriors 29 COMEBACK kings Saints failed to deliver in a cliff-hanger for the first time this season, but they were magnificent in defeat after what was surely the ultimate heart-stopper against the old enemy. The issue lay in the balance until the last gasp of 80 minutes of fast-and-furious rugbyleague.

A lethal combination of squandered chances and bad luck spelled Saints' first home defeat in a game where 'if and but' inquests raged, with penalties spurned and missed, tries allowed and 'tries' refused being the main talking points.

Errors abounded due to the game's grinding intensity, and on the basis that Chris Joynt's side enjoyed a try ratio of five-to-four, it could be argued that Saints lost the match rather than Wigan won it.

Not for the first time in these encounters, skipper Andy Farrell was Warriors' trump card with a try, six goals from as many attempts, and a soaring 40-yard drop goal on half-time which eventually proved to be the difference.

With no disrespect intended to Saints' goalkicker Paul Sculthorpe, Farrell's success with the boot made home fans yearn for their missing marksmen Sean Long and Tommy Martyn.

Although Wigan had their problems with Gary Connolly and Brett Dallas sidelined, and Matthew Johns and Terry O'Connor withdrawn through injury.

However, not one of the 15 Saints need reproach themselves because this was a game where everyone gave their all, with the awesome David Fairleigh and fellow countryman Peter Sheils leading the charge.

An attendance of almost 14,000 - Saints' best of the season - spelled atmosphere at Knowsley Road and the fans were rewarded for scorning television with a clash which was even better than the 22-22 meeting at the JJB stadium on Good Friday.

Saints suffered early shell-shock as Wigan moved into a 12-point lead within eight minutes with tries from David Furner, after what looked like a forward pass from Johns, while Adrian Lam sent Farrell over after Saints 'ran' a kickable penalty

Wigan's Harvey Howard was placed on report following a challenge on Keiron Cunningham, and it was fully 20 minutes before Saints reduced the arrears with a fine solo try by Sean Hoppe, which Sculthorpe converted.

They squared matters on the half-hour when an astute pass from Cunningham saw Fairleigh touch down between the posts for Scully to tack on the goal. Resilient Saints would then have gone ahead if Kevin Iro had held Hoppe's pass.

But hopes of another fightback by Saints were placed on hold at the vital psychological pre-interval stage when Kris Radlinski chased Lam's chip to touch down. Farrell converted, landed a penalty when Sculthorpe restarted on the full, and then left Saints facing a 21-12 deficit with his one-pointer

Paul Newlove and Joynt both went close as Saints sought the opening try on the resumption, but it was Warriors who forged further ahead when Farrell was on target with an angled penalty after Anthony Sullivan fouled Paul Johnson.

The inspirational Shiels then dummied his way past Farrell and Chris Chester to score but, tit-for-tat, Chester broke Sculthorpe's tackle to send Radlinski in for his second try and leave Saints trailing 29-16 at three-quarter time.

Formidable Fairleigh then crossed again with Sculthorpe adding the goal, and yet another nailbiting finish was guaranteed when Scully chipped ahead, re-gathered and fed Wellens, who lost the ball which Newlove scooped up to score.

Sculthorpe's conversion meant Wigan led by the narrowest of margins with 12 minutes left, and Knowsley Road remained no place for the faint-hearted as first Sullivan was turned by Brian Carney in the act of scoring, while Sculthorpe failed with a penalty.

Tim Jonkers, Scullthorpe, Cunningham, Steve Hall and Paul Wellens all went agonisingly close as never-say-die Saints camped on Wigan's line and strained every nerve and sinew to snatch a verdict which, on balance, would have been deserved

Their last chance came and went however, when Joynt spilled a speculative cross-kick from Iro.