The stage was set for a tense finish on Wednesday to Lancashire’s County Championship clash at Northampton with the outcome on a knife edge at start of play.
James Middlebrook’s stubborn unbeaten 78 fended off a three-day defeat as Northamptonshire reached 145 for five in their second innings
The 36-year-old’s second half-century of the Division One campaign stopped Northamptonshire slipping to their second-straight defeat on Tuesday.
Middlebrook faced 175 balls in three hours and 17 minutes at the crease, leaving Northamptonshire requiring 95 runs for victory when play resumes on Wednesday.
The under-fire hosts could find themselves hard-pressed to fend off a Lancashire victory on the final day’s play, however, especially with England quick James Anderson once again in fine form.
Anderson plundered five for 48 in Northampton’s first innings of 164, and continued in similar vein, returning figures of three for 32 from 15 overs on day three.
Ben Duckett’s unbeaten 24, to add to his first innings 35, helped Middlebrook rescue Northampton’s situation, with the duo reaching a partnership of 68 by the close.
One more breakthrough for Lancashire, however, and Northampton could quickly see their faint victory hopes dashed.
After resuming on 66 overnight, with Lancashire 244 for five, Jos Buttler could only survive two-and-a-half overs, slipping to an lbw decision to Azharullah for 72.
Olly Stone then claimed four quick wickets to clean up Lancashire’s tail, returning figures of four for 65 from 20.2 overs.
Tom Smith turned his 44 into a half-century before departing on 54, Stone claiming his first victim with Steven Crook taking the catch.
Captain-turned-coach Glen Chapple reached 10 before Stone struck again, this time with Middlebrook to thank for the safe hands.
Stone then clean bowled Kabir Ali for two and Simon Kerrigan for eight, steaming through the Lancashire tail for his four wickets.
The visitors’ second-innings total of 284 left Northamptonshire chasing 240 for victory, no mean feat given their first-innings of 164 and Lancashire’s initial 119.
England seamer Anderson was quickly back into the groove that yielded five first-innings wickets to put Northamptonshire under pressure though.
Anderson cleaned out Stephen Peters’ stumps, the Northamptonshire opener departing for nine with his side 10 for one.
Middlebrook and Kyle Coetzer steadied proceedings, but Scotland cap Coetzer was clean bowled by Ali for 19 from 34 balls.
Matthew Spriegel produced a stubborn seven runs from 51 balls, but his resistance came to an end when Chapple had him caught by Andrea Agathangelou.
Rob Newton departed for a duck with Northampton reduced to 77 for four, Anderson striking again and Paul Horton taking the catch.
Just two balls and no further score later, Anderson dislodged Andrew Hall, Ashwell Prince this time holding the catch.
At 77 for five from less than 30 overs, Northamptonshire were facing removal and a defeat swift and bleak in equal measure.
Duckett joined Middlebrook in a defiant stand, however, and Northampton were able to reach stumps with some fight still remaining in this contest.