LONDON IRISH suffered their 13th straight Premiership defeat with an agonising 13-9 loss to Sale Sharks at Madejski Stadium.
The Exiles were under pressure for nearly all the first half but went in only 10-3 behind.
And they rallied after the restart to eventually cut the gap to just four points up against 14 men for the final eight minutes after a yellow card for Marc Jones.
But they could not quite force their way over the line, stopped 10 metres short, and had to settle for a losing bonus point.
The defeat, coupled with a shock victory for second-bottom Worcester Warriors at leaders Exeter Chiefs leaves Irish rooted to the foot of the Aviva Premiership table, 12 points from safety.
Sale made their intentions clear from the off, forcing Irish back behind their own try-line in just the second minute.
And that set the tone for the rest of the first half with the Exiles on the back foot for the majority.
The visitors took lead on five minutes when a Faf De Klerk penalty snuck in off the post.
Despite waves of Sale pressure, the Irish defence was holding firm put they were under pressure again when James Marshall’s attempted kick through from halfway was charged down and Tom Fowlie was made to ground the ball over the try-line again.
Joe Cokanasiga made a brilliant defensive run and interception to prevent a certain first Sharks score, but they did soon cross the whitewash when Josh Strauss fly over the line after a five-metre scrum.
That sparked the Exiles into life with their first real spell of pressure of the afternoon eventually leading to an easy kick over for replacement Tommy Bell to bring the scores back to 10-3 heading into half-time.
The second half got off to a scrappy start as difficult conditions led to handling errors and the TMO was called in on no less than three occasions to rule over Sale try claims.
But each one was deemed to have been knocked on with Josh Charnley twice denied.
But Irish built some late pressure. Marshall’s kick to the corner yielded a line-out from which they pushed towards the line and Jones was giving his marching orders for entering at the side.
That gave Bell another shot from the tee which he slotted over to leave Irish needing just one try from the remaining seven minutes against 14 men.
Possession swung both ways with neither side able to retain the ball and while the Exiles came within around 10 metres of the line and also overturned at a scrum, Sale held on to take victory.
LONDON IRISH: Marshall, Cokanasiga, Fowlie, McLean, Lewington, Brophy Clews (Bell 29), van Zyl (Steele 53), Franks (Elrington 61), Paice (Fainga’a 61 (Paice 68-77)), Hoskins (Du Plessis 61), van der Merwe (c), Paulo, Botha, Northcote-Green, Treviranus (Cowan 68).
Reps not used: De Chaves, Tikoirotuma.
Pens: Bell x3 (35,60,83)
SALE: Haley, Odogwu, Addison, L. James (Jennings 61), Charnley, S. James, De Klerk, Harrison, Webber (Jones 61), John (Aulika 61), Evans (Nott 68), Beaumont, Ross (c) (Nield 62), Curry, Strauss (Ross 71).
Reps not used: Flynn, Ioane, Cliff.
Tries: Strauss (30)
Cons: De Klerk (31)
Pens: De Klerk x2 (5,63)
Yellow card: Jones (82)
Scoring sequence (Irish first): 0-3, 0-8, 0-10, 3-10, 6-10, 6-13, 9-13.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys