Rayner's five keeps Middlesex clinging on
Middlesex 249 and 25 for 2 need 272 more runs to beat Derbyshire 385 and 160 (Johnson 59, Rayner 5-67)
After bloodying the noses of Sussex two weeks ago, Derbyshire have the chance to ruin the hopes of another Championship challenger as they enter the final day of their clash with Middlesex needing eight wickets with the visitors still 272 runs short of victory.
Derbyshire's cricket over the last three days against the second best team in the league has been exceptional and their comprehensive nine-wicket win over Sussex in their previous match has shown they have enough about them to compete successfully in this division. Now they just have to show that they have what it takes to stay in it.
Were it not for Ollie Rayner, who knows how worse off Middlesex would be in this match. Much of what you read about the tall offspinner can be filed under patronising, but he would be the first to admit that his season so far has given few reasons for anything more. He is a very self-aware cricketer.
But when his team needed something to keep their title hopes alive, he dug deep and found a superb all-round performance - registering his season's best with bat (52 not out) and ball (5 for 67). His runs ensured his side passed the follow on target - which probably would not have been enforced anyway - before taking the final five wickets to give his senior batsmen a tricky yet mathematically comfortable fourth innings target of 297 runs in 105 overs.
Derbyshire's bowlers were five overs away from the new ball this morning, but before it came they were handed a bonus thanks to some suicidal running from John Simpson, who foolishly chanced Shivnarine Chanderpaul's arm. When they did take it, Tim Groenewald and Mark Footitt used it well to keep Middlesex's scoring down to a minimum. After six overs, it claimed its first victim, as Toby Roland-Jones drove Groenewald wildly to Chesney Hughes at third slip.
Seven and a half overs later, and the Middlesex first innings was finished, with the wicket of Steven Finn, who officially became part of the match, replacing James Harris, when he came out to bat at No. 11.
The game was never going to hinge on what Finn did with the bat. But after the disappointment of another omission from England's Test XI, he would have hoped for more than a pair completed in just five hours and 38 minutes.
The first wrapped up the Middlesex first innings and gave Footitt his 100th first class wicket; the second ended his stint as nightwatchman, after Joe Denly was dismissed just 3.2 overs into the fourth.
Groenewald was the man to remove him second time around, before he had to leave the ground after tweaking his ankle in his run up. Strapping and icing should see him fit and firing for what is set to a big effort in the field tomorrow.
Finn performed well with the ball, beating the bat on countless occasions as he steamed in, initially, from the Racecourse End, before switching to the City End for the rest of his day's overs. He certainly deserved more than just the one wicket he had to his name - that of Chesney Hughes - and was desperately unlucky when he clipped Wayne Madsen's off stump yet, somehow, failed to dislodge the bails. The sound was such that Finn appealed fervently for a caught behind, before following through with the formality of removing the bail by hand.
Middlesex were at their liveliest in that period, buoyed by the dismissal of Ben Slater just two balls into the Derbyshire second innings. At lunch, they had the hosts at a precarious 20 for 3, including the key wicket of Madsen, at which point home fans would be forgiven for casting their minds back to the middle of April where they folded for just 60 at Lord's.
But this is a different Derbyshire, one that has rediscovered the pluck that contributed to last season's promotion year. Weathering a tough afternoon session that saw them add 66 runs for the loss of just Chanderpaul - who looked in good touch - they pushed the scoring along in the evening with the help of a half century from Richard Johnson.
The County Ground was certainly in boisterous mood, with Middlesex fielders greeted by ironic cheers and choice words as they fetched the ball from beyond the boundary after some trademark strikes from Groenewald.
Tonight, Derbyshire are off the bottom by virtue of bonus points in this match. They have played two more games than Surrey, the new bottom club, but it is a start, and one they will be desperate to build on during the final day.