What had seemed inevitable was finally confirmed as Lancashire clinched the Second Division title in the County Championship, while also taking control on day one against Middlesex at Emirates Old Trafford.
Northamptonshire’s failure to get more than one batting bonus point against Durham combined with Lancashire’s two for their first innings total of 259 meant the Red Rose were champions.
And after posting a total that seemed no better than par, Lancashire’s bowlers celebrated their side’s success by taking three Middlesex wickets for no runs in seven balls to reduce the visitors to 15-3.
Martin Andersson, making his first championship appearance of the season, was then lbw for four to join Nick Gubbins and Dawid Malan as victims of Tom Bailey.
But the Lancashire new-ball bowler was not finished there. He was fortunate to trap nightwatchman Miguel Cummins lbw for two but then pulled off a brilliant caught and bowled, low to his right, to remove Max Holden for five and the visitors finished on 39-6 after 18 overs.
Bailey had taken five wickets in 24 balls to end the day with 5-16 from nine overs.
The Middlesex attack had earlier performed well despite resting three front-line seamers. Liam Livingstone led the way for Lancashire with an innings of 84 but this match had seemed well-balanced after both James Harris and Nathan Sowter had taken three wickets.
In the first session Lancashire openers Alex Davies and Keaton Jennings put on 49 for the first wicket in confident style before both departed in the space of six balls.
Davies was caught behind by John Simpson off Harris for 16 and Jennings was leg before to Miguel Cummins for 22
Josh Bohannon and Livingstone both began their innings with a flurry of fours but Bohannon’s hopes of repeating his 174 against Derbyshire ended when he was caught by Simpson off a fine ball from Toby Roland-Jones for 19.
The play after lunch was notable for a succession of boundaries, two of which were hit by the impressive Rob Jones, but the right-hander was bowled for 11 playing all too loosely at Harris.
An over later, Dane Vilas edged Cummins to Malan and departed for only his second duck of the season.
Livingstone went on the attack, reaching his 50 off 64 balls with a pulled four off Harris, but fell leg before to Ethan Bamber.
Bailey was caught at mid-off by Cummins off Sowter for nine but Steven Croft’s unbeaten 55, his fourth 50 of the season, ensured Lancashire reached what now looks a formidable total. Sowter finished with 3-42 and Harris 3-59.
Bailey said: “It’s particularly satisfying to win promotion with one and a half games to go. We set that goal at the start of the season and it’s good to achieve it.
"The team weren't too happy with the batting but we came out and bowled the way we have all year and it’s why we’re top of the league
"[Livingstone and Croft] scored crucial runs. We've been really good with the bat all year, so this is a one-off for those who didn’t contribute and I'm sure they'll contribute in the second innings.
"I think I bowled pretty well today. We're in a good position and we'll see what tomorrow brings. I always seem to do well against Middlesex and getting the news that we were champions took the pressure off a little. We were all watching the Northants game and waiting for that last wicket to fall. It was a relief when it did
"I think I struggled at the start of the season and I didn't really feel myself, and I now feel that I'm bowling like I did last season.
"I'm not the quickest of bowlers and I pride myself on being economical and I’m back to where I was last year, I think."