Leach shows Worcester character
Derbyshire 356 and 145 for 2 (Slater 65) lead Worcestershire 385 (Leach 71, Fell 70, Footitt 6-115) by 116 runs
Worcestershire showed the character that has taken them to the top of Division Two to leave their match against Derbyshire in the balance at the end of the third day at the Racecourse.
A seventh wicket stand of 117 in 37 overs between Joe Leach, who made 71 and Shaaiq Choudhry, 44, lifted Worcestershire to 385 and a lead of 29 with Mark Footitt taking 6 for 115.
Ben Slater, with 65, and Billy Godleman scored half-centuries in an opening stand of 125 - Derbyshire's highest in the Championship this season - but they both fell before the close to leave the home side 116 in front at 145 for 2, giving both teams a chance of victory on the last day.
Worcestershire were still behind the game going into day three 135 runs adrift but by the time the seventh-wicket pair were parted, they were closing in on a lead. Derbyshire's bowling lacked the intensity and consistency of the second day and bright sunshine made batting easier but Leach and Choudhry played with increasing authority, scoring at just under four an over.
Although there was still some playing and missing, the batsmen were on top and 58 came in the first hour with Leach reaching a 50 that included eight fours from 95 balls. He pulled the left-arm spin of David Wainwright to the midwicket boundary to bring up the 100 stand and had batted for a minute short of three hours when he left a ball from offspinner Wes Durston and was bowled.
Choudhry followed two balls later when he was caught behind down the leg side to give Footitt his 150th first-class wicket for Derbyshire but he had played a valuable innings and there was more resistance to come as Worcestershire moved into credit.
Mitchell McClenaghan had disappointed with the ball but the New Zealander batted with application in partnership with Jack Shantry to add 51 for the ninth wicket in 19 overs. McClenaghan whipped Wainwright through midwicket for four to put his team in front but was bowled by Durston in the next over, leaving Shantry 37 to play some attacking strokes against Footitt for 37 before he edged the fast bowler to first slip.
Derbyshire would have anticipated starting their second innings with a decent lead rather than a deficit of 29 but Slater and Godleman settled any nerves there may have been in the home camp with the county's third century opening stand of the season in the Championship. Godleman survived a confident appeal for lbw against McClenaghan but the runs flowed after tea with both openers passing 50 before two late wickets raised Worcestershire's hopes.
McClenaghan's return brought the breakthrough when Godleman edged a full-length ball and Ben Cox dived to his left to take the catch and Slater joined him the pavilion three overs later. Choudhry's switch to the City End accounted for Slater, who was bowled driving for 65, and Worcestershire's position would have been even better if skipper Daryl Mitchell had not dropped both Chesney Hughes and skipper Wayne Madsen at slip before stumps.
Leach admitted the late drops could have cost them: "We probably started the day behind the eight ball and it's a shame we couldn't have held on to those catches late on. We can still push hard for the win but we need early wickets in the morning and, if not, we have to keep it as tight as we can so they don't get away from us."
Madsen, the Derbyshire captain, also believes his side can force victory: "We are still in a position where we can win the game. It would have been ideal if we had bowled them out earlier and had a lead but they played well in the morning session to get past us. But we've set ourselves up for what could be a very interesting day tomorrow."