Newcastle Falcons endured a difficult evening in the capital on Friday, tasting defeat to Harlequins in a cagey Gallagher Premiership contest.
The Falcons had been pushed into a last-minute change when the injury-enforced withdrawal of Johnny Williams in the warm-up saw Toby Flood promoted to the starting side, and there was a further blow after just seven minutes when Joel Hodgson was stretchered from the field.
Neither side troubled the scorers in a scrappy opening quarter played predominantly in the middle third, Harlequins enjoying marginally the better of the territory as they attacked on a handful of occasions in the Newcastle 22, but finding themselves unable to pierce the line of green in front of them.
A Calum Green line-out steal inside his own 22 thwarted the Londoners when they kicked a penalty to the corner on 20 minutes, but Harlequins finally registered the opening points of the night shortly after when Marcus Smith sent over a short-range penalty from the right following a Falcons offside infringement.
The visitors finally began to show their teeth around the half-hour mark when slick work at the back of a line-out on the home 22 saw Alex Tait put through a hole, the attack halted on that occasion by a Harlequins injury.
Flood’s first pop at goal from a long-range penalty left of centre fell just short of the target after good yardage from George McGuigan and Andrew Davidson with ball in hand, but the home side assumed a 10-0 half-time lead thanks to a 40-metre interception try from flanker Alex Dombrandt, converted by Smith.
Newcastle’s dominant scrum earned Harlequins prop Lewis Boyce a trip to the sin bin during the early exchanges of the second period, the Falcons creeping more into the game thanks to the running of Pedro Bettencourt, Sinoti and McGuigan, but continuing to find that first score elusive.
The home side were having no such worries despite the Falcons enjoying the greater territory, Smith sending over a 35-metre penalty to extend their advantage to 13 on the half-hour.
The introduction of replacements including Kyle Cooper and Sam Stuart helped generate some much-needed go-forward but Harlequins were more ruthless in taking their chances, as demonstrated on 64 minutes when Joe Marchant broke down the right and offloaded for Francis Saili to score, James Lang converting for 20-0.
The visitors finally posted the score that their pressure deserved on 68 minutes when Premiership debutant Andrew Davidson broke clear from the fringes of a close-range ruck to dot down, Flood converting from in front.
Further Falcons inroads followed in an improved closing quarter, but the 13-point deficit proved a barrier too far as the club’s five-game unbeaten streak was finally halted.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Pedro Bettencourt, 12 Toby Flood, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson (Tim Swiel, 7, Ben Stevenson, 64), 9 Michael Young (captain, Sam Stuart, 58); 1 Sam Lockwood (Trevor Davison, 64), 2 George McGuigan (Kyle Cooper, 51), 3 Jon Welsh (David Wilson, 60), 4 Calum Green (Glen Young, 59), 5 Andrew Davidson, 6 Gary Graham, 7 John Hardie, 8 Callum Chick (Ryan Burrows, 64).
Falcons scorers - Tries: Andrew Davidson. Conversions: Toby Flood.
Harlequins: 15 Aaron Morris (Francis Saili, 30), 14 Nathan Earle, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Mike Brown, 10 Marcus Smith (James Lang, 61), 9 Charlie Mulchrone (Dave Lewis, 61); 1 Lewis Boyce, 2 Elia Elia (Max Crumpton, 30), 3 Will Collier (Phil Swainston, 65), 4 Matt Symons, 5 George Merrick (Ben Glynn, 72), 6 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Jack Clifford, 8 James Chisholm (captain, Dave Ward, 64)).
Harlequins scorers - Tries: Alex Dombrandt, Francis Saili. Conversions: Marcus Smith, James Lang. Penalties: Marcus Smith 2.
Referee: JP Doyle. Attendance: 9,847.
Brown, Earle, Marchant, Tapuai, Morris, Smith, Mulchrone, Boyce, Elia, Collier, Symons, Merrick, Dombrandt, Clifford, Chisholm
Replacements Crumpton, Marler, Swainston, Glynn, Ward, Lewis, Lang, Saili
Hammersley, Tait, Bettencourt, Flood, Sinoti, Hodgson, Young, Lockwood, McGuigan, Welsh, Green, Davidson, Graham, Hardie, Chick
Replacements Cooper, Davison, Wilson, Young, Burrows, Stuart, Swiel, Stevenson
referee: JP Doyle
assistant: Michael Hudson
assistant: Peter Allan
TMO: Sean Davey