Falcons lose out as Connacht continue unbeaten European run.
Newcastle Falcons' European Challenge Cup quarter final challenge took a dent as group leaders Connacht maintained their unbeaten start to the competition.
A robust Galway contest ended one try apiece in the first of back-to-back encounters between the two teams, Jack Carty's boot the difference as Connacht's man of the match Fly Half slotted six penalties a conversion from Danie Poolman's late try.
In a close-fought encounter which sets next Sunday's rematch up nicely, Falcons legend Pat Lam admitting afterwards that Newcastle's aggressive defence had pushed his team to the limit.
The Falcons trailed 9-3 at the break following a combative opening half in which both sides played their part.
Connacht drew first blood when Carty slotted a penalty from in front, Tom Penny's late withdrawal having seen Juan Pablo Socino drafted in as a last-minute starter.
An even opening 40 saw both teams enjoying their share of territory and possession, referee Thomas Charabas kept on his toes by an enthusiastic home crowd who urged the Frenchman's whistle to his mouth at regular intervals.
Taione Vea and Dan Temm were among the Falcons' early carriers as they tested Connacht's fringe defence, Tane Takulua whipping the ball away from the base in a composed showing from Tonga's World Cup starter.
Connacht doubled their advantage via Carty's second penalty as the stand-off sent one over from long range, the Irish side trying and failing to find a first try when they kicked a penalty to the left corner.
Newcastle's much-improved maul defence shoved them back towards the 22 as they attempted to set up the drive, Simon Hammersley's downfield grubber giving the visitors prime field position from the resulting phase.
That forced the home defence to infringe as Newcastle probed for a gap, Craig Willis making no mistake with the penalty from just left of the posts.
Connacht had the last say of the half when Carty sent over a long-range penalty for 9-3, prop Alex Rogers showing his skills with a deft chip to the corner as Newcastle reiterated their attacking intent.
The second half saw a continuation of the forward jousting in a game dominated by the packs, Carty again drawing first blood with a long-range penalty as the Falcons failed to clear a kick downfield.
Willis fired wide with an attempted reply, and was rewarded for his adventure when he sent a 55th minute penalty into touch.
The resulting maul saw prop Vea driven over in the right corner as Newcastle's inside backs added their weight to the collective shove, and when Willis sent over the touchline conversion the gap was as narrow as two points.
That was as close as it was to get, Carty missing a long-range penalty but regaining his range on the hour mark when he slotted from 40 metres.
The sin-binning of centre Rory Parata looked like it might help bring Newcastle into the game, but the extra man did not prevent the hosts from adding another 10 to their total in a frantic finish.
The first of those came via Carty's sixth penalty from wide out on the right, and there was still time for them to pull further away when a grubber into the in-goal saw Poolman dot down for the Irishmen.
Newcastle Falcons S Hammersley, D Marshall (M Watson, 66), JP Socino, C Harris, Z Kibirige, C Willis )T Catterick, 65), T Takulua; A Rogers (B Harris, 71), S Lawson (R Hawkins, 65), T Vea, W Witty, M Botha (C Green, 77), R Mayhew (captain), D Temm, A Hogg.
Falcons scorers – Tries: T Vea. Conversions: C Willis. Penalties: C Willis.
Connacht M Healy (S O'Leary, 73), N Adeolokun, R Parata, P Robb, D Poolman, J Carty (D McSherry, 78), C Blade; F Bealham, J Harris-Wright (S Delahunt, 54), N White (R Ah You, 54), U Dillane, A Muldowney, S O'Brien (D Qualter, 66), J Connolly (D Heffernan, 68), G Naoupu. Sin-bin: R Parata (67).
Connacht scorers – Tries: D Poolman. Conversions: J CartyPenalties: J Carty 6.
Referee: T Charabas (France). Attendance: 4,346.