Compton's 99 fails to lick Middlesex
Middlesex 246 and 38 for 1 trail Somerset 350 by 66 runs
If winning the County Championship was easy then Somerset, presumably, would have managed it at least once in their long history. And if promotion from Division Two was followed, automatically, by relegation there would not have been much point in Middlesex turning up.
Happily, nothing is automatic, especially in early season. But three days of this absorbing contest have produced enough evidence to suggest Somerset are prepared to graft their way into positions of strength when necessary and to indicate that Middlesex will be no one's easy touch as they seek to re-establish themselves at the top table after five seasons of second-tier cricket.
Somerset have enough stroke-players to dazzle any attack. In this match, though, it was the patience of Nick Compton (six-and a-half -hours and 312 balls for 99) that proved crucial in establishing what could still be a potentially decisive first-innings lead of 104. Dejected though Compton was at missing out on a century against his former county, he has played a vital role.
True, if Marcus Trescothick, James Hildreth or Jos Buttler had hit their straps then the hosts would have roared ahead much earlier. But they did not and, thanks in no small part to the disciplined lines and lengths bowled by the visitors, even Craig Kieswetter had to be more circumspect than usual.
England's one-day wicketkeeper, who should have been run out cheaply on the second day, did threaten to break loose with some crunching straight drives. But the second new ball ended his innings on 83 when Corey Collymore found an outside edge that just carried to slip.
Even before Kieswetter's dismissal Somerset seemed to have shelved any thoughts of chasing a fourth, never mind fifth, batting bonus point. And following his exit, stretching the lead was the only thought in Compton's mind.
The fourth-wicket stand with Kieswetter was worth 152 - 144 more than would have been the case had Joe Denly's run-out attempt on the second evening succeeded. But if that miss nagged away at Middlesex (and it must have done) they did not let it show. And nor did their heads drop when Compton was reprieved, first on 76 and then again at 81.
Dawid Malan's spill at slip, off Tim Murtagh, might be excused by the fact he had taken a blow on the fingers just a few balls earlier. And Neil Dexter's inability to hit the stumps from mid-off when Compton went for a silly single was perhaps down to early season rust.
Middlesex will need to take chances like the three spurned here more often than not if they are to prosper. The spirit is certainly willing, though. Compton, who left Lord's in 2010, denied himself a century against his ex-employers by pulling a short ball from Toby Roland-Jones to midwicket but the visitors were quick to charge through the gap created by his exit - and 333 for 6 soon became 350 all out.
The day still just about belonged to Somerset. But if home supporters thought the match would be in their pockets by close of play then more Middlesex resilience, plus early evening rain, scuppered that plan.
Vernon Philander and Steve Kirby quickened pulses with wonderfully challenging new-ball spells that saw plenty of playing and missing. But only Denly succumbed during the 18 overs possible, pinned lbw by Kirby who also had Sam Robson dropped by Marcus Trescothick at second slip.
Middlesex are still 66 behind but they have earned the right to fight another day.