Bristol boss Tainton hails 'massive win' as basement boys see off Worcester
Mark Tainton hailed Bristol's "character and resilience" after they claimed a crucial Aviva Premiership victory, despite being being reduced to 14 men.
Centre Tusi Pisi was sent off for a dangerous tackle with only 13 minutes gone against Ashton Gate visitors and fellow league strugglers Worcester, but wing Tom Varndell scored three tries and full-back Jason Woodward kicked 13 points to secure a 28-20 triumph.
A crowd of 16,500 roared its approval as the Premiership's bottom club claimed a first league win this season at the 11th attempt, closing the gap on Worcester to just two points.
"We are delighted with the win," Bristol's acting head coach Tainton said. "To go down to 14 men and show the character and resilience we did was fantastic.
"We are not going to get ahead of ourselves. We are still bottom of the Premiership, but we are a lot closer than we were (to Worcester) at three o'clock today.
"If we had lost today it would have made the challenge far greater. It is a massive win.
"We hadn't built the game up to be the be-all and end-all, but players aren't silly. They understood what was at stake today. I am delighted with the way they responded."
Asked about Pisi's dismissal - he sent airborne Warriors fly-half Jamie Shillcock sprawling and was red-carded by referee Wayne Barnes after the official assessed television replays - Tainton added: "The red card was disappointing.
"Tusi has chased the ball, his eyes are on the ball all the time, he has not got off the ground. Technically, he is below the (opposition) player's hips, and he has a responsibility to bring the player down (safely), so the referee has made that decision and we will abide by that.
"We didn't think for one minute it was going to go pear-shaped. We knew it would be more difficult with 14 men, but the players are a tight group. They work very hard."
Varndell's heroics - he also claimed a hat-trick against European Challenge Cup opponents Pau just before Christmas - gave him 89 Premiership career tries, leaving him just one short of equalling Mark Cueto's record.
"Today, we knew it was all or nothing," former England wing Varndell said. "If we had lost today, that gap between us and Worcester would have got bigger.
"We have had a good run in Europe the last couple of weeks, which has done wonders for our confidence. To win the way we did with 14 men is a massive credit to the whole team.
"We want to be in this league next year, and you have got to make winning a habit. We know what it is going to take.
"We could have fallen apart when Tusi was sent off, but the fans got behind us - there was so much passion out there - and the boys played for each other.
"It is a massive weight off our shoulders getting that first Premiership win. It has been long overdue, and hopefully now we can kick on."
Worcester proved unable to capitalise on their one-man advantage for more than an hour, despite lock Darren Barry and wing Dean Hammond scoring tries, plus a penalty apiece from Shillcock and Chris Pennell, with Pennell also landing two conversions.
Shillcock did not return to the action following Pisi's challenge after failing a head injury assessment, and Worcester missed his influence as Bristol dug deep, giving their supporters hope that Premiership survival can be achieved following a first top-flight league win since they beat the Warriors in March 2009 and then dropped into the Championship two months later.
Worcester head coach Carl Hogg said: "I am hugely frustrated. Losing Shillcock was pivotal for us. We lacked direction and shape.
"I didn't think we managed the game. We had plenty of ball, but we looked blunt in attack. When we have got ball in hand, we are normally a threat.
"We have obviously had a bumpy start to the season, but we have a number of significant players coming back who I think will be pivotal to the direction we take."