Jim Mallinder: Referee had no option but to send off Kieran Brookes
Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder admitted the referee had no choice in sending Kieran Brookes off as his side went down 22-16 to Newcastle at Franklin's Gardens.
Referee Andrew Jackson showed forward Brookes a red card on 38 minutes for a dangerous shoulder charge to Scott Lawson's head in a ruck.
The home fans booed the official off at half-time, but there was no complaint from Brookes or his team-mates.
Despite having 14 men, Northampton came from behind to lead 16-15 with five minutes to go but Niki Goneva scored an 80-metre interception try to condemn Saints to a third home Aviva Premiership defeat this season.
Mallinder said: "I've looked at it a few times and what happened was that someone put their head into the ruck, they came in and caused that first offence, Kieran Brookes took exception to that and their players took exception to Kieran Brookes.
"What you can't do is retaliate. You can't strike anybody near the head and the referee had no option.
"If you're behind in the game or ahead in the game, you don't want anyone getting sent off - it puts your team under a lot of pressure.
"But I think the 14 men responded really, really well in that second half and we should have come away with the win."
Brookes is likely to be banned for next week's trip to Leicester, which follows team-mate Calum Clark's three-week suspension on Wednesday.
Northampton played better with 14 men after a lacklustre first-half display left them trailing 8-3 at the break.
Mallinder said: "It was a poor start, but I was pleased with the way we responded. We showed some pride in that second half and I suppose we should really have won the game.
"We were doing what we needed to, getting into their half, driving the lineout, but unfortunately the intercept really cost us."
Victory sees Newcastle move up to seventh in the Premiership, two points behind Northampton, and director of rugby Dean Richards was delighted with the club's third victory at the Gardens this century.
He said: "What a great win. And to be honest there were a couple of tries that went begging as well. It was an unbelievable start, and we had a try scratched off when it shouldn't have been.
"I haven't looked at the sending off too closely, but if he has made contact with the head it is disappointing from Kieran's point of view.
"In the second half we turned over a few balls, but we fought our way back and got the win that we wanted.
"Niki is a quality player, to step aside (Ben) Foden at the end for the try was sheer class."