Rob Jones carried his bat for a magnificent maiden first-class century before Simon Kerrigan took three for 16 to slow Middlesex’s title charge at Old Trafford.
The 20-year-old Lancashire opener, playing just his third Championship match and resuming on 42, became the youngest Red Rose batsman since Cyril Washbrook in 1935 to carry his bat through a County Championship innings.
That lifted Lancashire to 259, a deficit of only 68 having at one point been six for four, before Middlesex reached stumps on the third day 140 ahead at 72 for four.
Jones’ stand with Liam Livingstone, so vital on Tuesday evening, swelled to 106 before Livingstone became the first of Steven Finn’s four wickets, guiding to second slip the ball after the same stroke had brought up a fine 117-ball half-century.
Jones, who drove beautifully, was joined by Tom Bailey and the pair knuckled down to avert any threat of the follow-on, then earn a first unlikely batting point and eventually see off the new ball.
Bailey had pulled the ball impressively but drove hard at Finn and was caught at first slip, while Kyle Jarvis could only divert his first ball, a lifting snorter, straight to gully.
Kerrigan received a reprieve when Finn bowled him with a no-ball before Jones brought up his century from his 276th ball, with his second six off Ollie Rayner to go with 10 fours and a lot of sound defence and good judgement of what to leave.
Kerrigan was trapped lbw and Toby Lester was bowled by Rayner to bring an end to Lancashire’s first innings but Jones had earned them two batting points and orchestrated a remarkable turnaround.
The bowlers picked up where he left off. Nick Gubbins prodded forward to a ball from Jarvis that left him and was caught by Livingstone at first slip, although Sam Robson looked in good touch immediately with a series of cuts and pulls.
The introduction of Kerrigan proved vital, however, as he dismissed Robson for the second time in the match, lbw trying to pull the first ball of his spell.
Nick Compton and Stevie Eskinazi both also fell lbw to become Kerrigan’s sixth and seventh victims of the match, the former playing back and the latter forward.
Left-handers David Malan and John Simpson came together for a trial by spin, digging in with men round the bat, the ball turning and runs never readily available.
They guided Middlesex to a lead of 140 at stumps despite a huge appeal for lbw against Simpson from the last ball of the day, bowled by Livingstone.
A win would take Middlesex 20 points clear of Yorkshire, who are one ahead of Somerset going into the final round of fixtures when first plays second at Lord’s.
A draw would see Middlesex top by nine and should they lose, their advantage would be just four points.