SAINTS coach Paul Wellens was understandably disappointed with the way his side slipped to 20-18 defeat at Salford after a late, converted Chris Hankinson try.

It had looked as though Saints had withstood the enthusiastic challenge of the Red Devils when Mark Percival stormed over to the visitors ahead going into the final 10 minutes.

Crucially, after kicking more difficult goals all afternoon, he miscued this one which meant that when Chris Hankinson polished off a late, long-distance effort for Salford Marc Sneyd’s conversion would seal the result.

It is club’s first double loss to the Red Devils since Eric Ashton’s team of 1979-80 and ends a four-game winning run.

Salford were arguably the better side of the first half, despite Saints opening the scoring when James Bell raced on to angled Jack Welsby grubber.

Two tries from former Saints junior Deon Cross put the Red Devils 10-6 ahead at the break – a lead the hosts fully deserved for their physicality, hunger and execution.

Although Saints got back in front with tries from Curtis Sironen and Percival – with one from Kallum Watkins sandwiched in the middle – the game got away from them when Saints were once again undone on the edge.

Wellens said: “I thought we did a really good job to get back in the game and get our noses in front, but from the off I felt it was always going to be one of those games – a bit tit-for-tat.

“I am obviously disappointed that we got opened up at the end for that last try having worked so hard to get ourselves back in front.”

Salford laid out their stall with a thunderous opening shot of George Delaney, and their physical and enthusiastic approach did not surprise Wellens.

He said: “People can fall into the trap of thinking that because Salford are a team that likes to move the ball that they perhaps don’t play as physical.

“I don’t buy into that - and it is something we spoke about with the players during the week.”

Once Percival had given Saints a four-point lead it came down to how well they could manage the game.

And with their last good ball set on the Salford line they opted to back their D and turn over the ball short of the line, rather than try and create another scoring opportunity.

And it looked as though it had worked in the opening tackles of that fateful set, until Salford chanced their arm on the right edge – creating an overlap that was supported bodies from the inside from which the Saints cover was helpless to stop.

That was the match – and was an almost an inevitable conclusion to a game in which Saints were second best for large parts.

Wellens said: “I always back this team to defend a game out and I thought we were going to do that.

"We lost a bit of connection with our edge defence a few times today which is something that we have to fix up because that is uncharacteristic.

“We conceded two tries from kicks which is disappointing but in Marc Sneyd they have got a player there who is the best exponent of that.

“And a try early on from a trick play – three maybe four soft tries and I feel 18 points should be enough to win any game of rugby but we got a few things wrong defensively today.”

Sneyd was a kick man for the Red Devils and his kicking game asked question in offence and when deep got them out of trouble.

“You are never going to negate Marc Sneyd completely but you have to try and limit that impact.

“For our liking today he had too much of an impact, particularly around his kicking.

“But he has done that to other good teams in the past and that is something we are going to have to learn from moving forward.”

The result means drop to second spot with the blank international weekend coming up, and suddenly the top five positions in particular tighten up.

Wellens added: “I have got a pretty honest group in there who understand that we could have done a few things better, but by no means did we lack effort today and by no means did we have a team out there that didn’t care.

“I think everybody will have seen a Saints team trying hard but just not get a few things right.

“It was tough conditions out there today – Daryl Clark did 80 minutes, and Curtis Sironen and Sione Mata’utia in the forward pack – that is always a challenge.

“Sirro had a real impact on the game and as an edge back rower he is one of - if not the best in the comp – and he had a huge impact.

“There was some pleasing individual performances but soured by we have not gone on and won the game, that can happen and we just have to learn and move forward.”