SALE Sharks director of rugby Steve Diamond admitted his side are now in a relegation battle after a home defeat to Bristol on New Year's Day.

Diamond bemoaned his side's lack of control but praised Bristol's determination as the visitors overturned a 13-point deficit to win at the AJ Bell Stadium.

The first game of 2017 brought fresh hope for Sharks but they slipped to an eighth successive defeat in all competitions – a fifth in the Aviva Premiership – as they failed to ring in the new year in style.

A penalty try on 13 minutes and subsequent conversion by James Mitchell gave Sharks a 7-0 lead on 15 minutes and a Denny Solomona try on 20 minutes extended their advantage.

Mitchell missed the conversion but kicked a penalty on 31 minutes to make it 15-0 to the hosts.

This sparked Bristol into life and two minutes later they got a penalty of their own through Jason Woodward.

Bristol got another score thanks to Tom Varndell when he touched down after a break from Woodward.

This try brought the winger level with ex-Sale star Mark Cueto for the Premiership try scoring charts and Woodward got the conversion to make it 15-10.

In the second half, Sharks dominated territory and possession early on but the visitors stood strong.

Mitchell extended the Sharks' lead after 48 minutes, after they earned a penalty following a barnstorming run from captain Josh Beaumont and it made the score 18-10.

Sale went for the kill, and Johnny Leota crashed over to get a try to extend their lead to 23-10 after 56 minutes.

However Bristol mounted a comeback as Varndell made a break down the left and passed on his inside to scrum-half Rhodri Williams who went over to score. Woodward got the conversion to make it 23-17 with 20 minutes to go.

They sensed a turnaround and with 10 minutes to go, Sharks' Rob Webber was shown a yellow card five metres from his own try line.

Bristol had a chance to attack and replacement hooker Max Crumpton was at the end of a driving maul, Woodward kicking the conversion to make it 24-23.

"I think we have to give credit to Bristol for responding every time we got in front of the game with their never-say-die attitude," Diamond told the club's website.

"We didn't control the game well at all, we managed to score and play some good rugby but for some reason, we didn't have the confidence to back it up.

"We let them back in the game twice.

"There are a lot of good sides in the competition and anyone can beat anyone on the day.

"In my opinion we should have controlled the game better in the second half and we didn't, and Bristol took their opportunities.

"We are in a relegation battle now."

Sale travel to Harlequins on Saturday, and Diamond urged his side to capitalise on the chances they create.