Carter's five cut through Kent
Essex 279 and 48 for 1 v Kent 420 and 135
It was a day of notable role reversal for Kent old-boys David Masters and Matthew Walker, who marked their return to the St Lawrence ground with performances that nigh-on broke Kentish hearts. Having controlled the game for much of the opening two days, Kent lost their grip on Saturday and left Essex as the most likely winners of this first division tussle to avoid the drop.
It was seam bowler Masters who first hogged centre stage by batting Essex eight runs beyond the follow-on figure of 271. Playing straight and with no little style, Masters plundered eight fours in his 84- ball cameo of 42 to frustrate Kent for most of the opening session.
He finally went leg-before to the wiles of wrist spinner Malinga Bandara, who finished with 3 for 44, leaving last-wicket partners Maurice Chambers and Andy Carter to help Essex to avoid the ignominy of batting again.
Kent's second innings was halted soon after lunch by a half-hour break for rain, after which the hosts proceeded to lose their way in the game by losing seven mid-session wickets for 68 runs. Carter, in only his second start since joining on loan from Nottinghamshire removed both home openers, Joe Denly and Rob Key, to catches at the wicket by James Foster, and then Masters sent Sam Northeast packing in similar fashion.
Carter returned at the Nackington Road End to graze the outside edge of Geraint Jones's bat for another catch for Foster and with his next ball he trapped Darren Stevens leg-before as the right-hander aimed to force a straight one through midwicket.
At 36 for 5 things appeared bleak for Kent's faithful, yet they became a whole lot worse following the introduction of Matthew Walker, a left-handed batsman and former crowd favourite here in Canterbury.
As a bowler Walker might merit the description of: 'occasional and 'military-medium' at best', yet he transpired to turn the game the way of his new county with a career-best spell of 3 for 35. In only his seventh first-class over since joining from Kent two years ago, Walker nipped one back in to South African run-machine Martin van Jaarsveld to trap the right-hander lbw.
After tea Walker continued his golden-armed stint by pegging back Malinga Bandara's off stump and then having Kent top-scorer James Tredwell (40) caught at mid-off. Carter came back to dismiss last man Amjad Khan to finish with 5 for 40 and, with 14 overs of the day remaining, Essex went out to bat again needing 277 for a dramatic win.
Kent hit back by removing their first inning's top-scorer Mark Pettini (4) to a good slip catch by Tredwell off Azhar Mahmood, but Jaik Mickleburgh and Tom Westley made it through to stumps at 48 for 1 to leave Essex favourites going into the final day.
Mark Pennell is the managing director of freelance reporting and public relations agency Kent & Sussex Sport