Hildreth helps bring double relief for Somerset
Somerset 103 and 231 for 4 (Hildreth 81, Compton 64*) lead Derbyshire 298 (Johnson 68, Poynton 57, Chawla 5-111) by 36 runs
There was relief and hope for Somerset: relief that their pitch had been given the all-clear following several sessions of close scrutiny, and some hope - despite the galling last ball of the day dismissal of Craig Kieswetter - of a vital backs-to-the-wall victory in this relegation nerve-tingler.
ECB pitch inspector Bill Hughes was among those present yesterday when the ball turned and bounced significantly from the outset, for home spinners Piyush Chawla and Jack Leach. At the close of play, umpire David Millns confirmed the surface was being "monitored".
Today, Hughes settled down behind the bowler's arm, alongside groundsman Simon Lee, and announced during the lunch interval that his work was not yet done. But by tea, he declared himself satisfied; meaning any threat of a points penalty had been removed.
Of even more importance for Somerset - and potentially more damaging for Derbyshire - the balance of power had started to shift out in the middle. A daunting first innings deficit of 195 was eaten into by Marcus Trescothick's sixth half-century of this, so far, hundred-less season and then wiped away completely through the combined efforts of Nick Compton and James Hildreth.
By stumps, the hosts were ahead, by 36. And if only Kieswetter had defended Shiv Chanderpaul's final delivery instead of trying to cut the now extremely occasional legspinner, they would have had seven wickets in hand. The ball cannoned into the stumps via a bottom edge and Derbyshire celebrated an unexpected and badly needed late gift.
But even now, the visitors can anticipate a testing fourth innings run-chase, thanks in no small part to a stand of 116 between Compton and Hildreth.
Trescothick, dropped on 35 by second slip Richard Johnson off Tim Groenewald, was unable to benefit fully from his slice of luck. And Hildreth, having looked all at sea early on against the spinners, prospered splendidly yet still failed, by 19 runs, to turn what was only his third Championship fifty of the campaign into a second hundred - under-edging an attempted pull into his stumps. But Compton remained reassuringly rock-solid throughout.
The, for now at least, former-England batsman dropped down to No. 3 so he could have treatment on a stiff neck. But once in the middle he looked happy enough, negotiating 151 deliveries while accumulating 64 unbeaten runs. No wonder Derbyshire were looking hot and bothered before Kieswetter played into their hands.
Last year's Division Two champions were recently penalised for a pitch producing excessive turn during a YB40 match and at least some in their camp will believe they saw enough evidence on the first day here for Somerset to have been convicted of a similar charge.
The problem, in more ways than one, for the visitors is that their spinners were unable to extract as much turn and bounce as Chawla and Leach - at least not on anything like a regular basis.
They had chosen to leave out 19-year-old offspinner Peter Burgoyne, who has played in the last four games, while left-armer David Wainwright started this match with a season record of 13 wickets at 55 runs apiece. He posed some problems, inevitably, but no more than occasional tweaker Wayne Madsen. It was more in hope than expectation, then, that Chanderpaul was called upon, but what a good decision.
Derbyshire had added 78 for 5 this morning which was both a fair bit better than seemed likely at 256 for 9 but ultimately just a tad disappointing when they were all out, following a last wicket stand of 42 between Tim Groenewald and Mark Footitt, with a third batting point only two runs away.
Alfonso Thomas did most of the damage with the ball, taking 3 for 19 in six overs with the help of two outside edges and a bad misjudgement from Palladino, who padded up to an in-ducker.
Derbyshire might have expected to face another trial by spin. Instead, Trescothick ignored left-armer Leach completely and kept Chawla's powder dry until 55 minutes into the session. When the little Indian leggie did appear, his sixth delivery - one that hurried through - easily defeated Johnson's ill-advised attempted pull.
Johnson deserved a career-best but had to settle for 68, four short of that landmark. Still, his earlier partnership of 103 with Tim Poynton had gone a long way towards putting the visitors into a position of strength - and it did not go unnoticed by Somerset supporters that the stand was worth precisely what the hosts could muster, in total, in their first innings.
That should have been just about it. Instead, the last pair made merry (when they weren't playing at fresh air during Chawla's five-over spell) and Groenewald's almost-straight six off the legspinner was a treat to behold. In the end, with 300 beckoning, confidence got the better of Footitt and a sliced drive against Craig Meschede brought the curtain down.