Derbyshire 28 for 3 trail Essex 245 (Napier 52, Wainwright 4-64) by 217 runs
David Masters helped Essex fight back against promotion favourites Derbyshire after a four wicket haul by spinner David Wainwright had secured maximum bowling points for the Division Two leaders at Derby.
Wainwright took 4 for 64 and Mark Turner two wickets as Essex were bowled out for 245 but the visitors hit back by reducing the home side to 28 for 3 at the close.
Masters followed a season's best of 35 with the bat with 2 for 3 in seven overs on his return from a side strain and Graham Napier, who top scored with 42, also claimed a wicket to leave the game in the balance.
Derbyshire dominated the first part of the day after their decision to put Essex in was quickly justified as Tony Palladino struck against his former county by having Jaik Mickleburgh caught behind for five in the fifth over. It was the seamer's 49th Championship victim of the season but he was kept waiting for his 50th as Essex subsided to the spin of Wainwright and two needless run-outs.
After Tom Westley had played down the wrong line at Tim Groenewald and Owais Shah had been beaten for pace by Turner, Wainwright got a ball to spit at Mark Pettini who was caught off his glove by Wes Durston at first slip.
Ryan ten Doeschate has played some explosive innings against Derbyshire in the past and he briefly threatened to leave his mark on them again when he drove Wainwright over long on for six.
But he made a misjudgement on 29 when he went back to Wainwright and was lbw to the arm ball and although James Foster was dropped by wicketkeeper Tom Poynton and saw a top edge hook carried over the ropes by Palladino, he did not make Derbyshire pay.
The Essex captain had moved to 31 when he pushed Wainwright to mid on, set off for a single which was never on and was run out by yards thanks to Wayne Madsen's direct hit.
When Adam Wheater was lbw to a full length ball from Turner, Essex were 151 for 7 but Napier and Masters at least earnt their side a batting point with a stand of 74 in 19 overs. Napier fell to Wainwright when he edged a big drive to slip and Maurice Chambers' attempted slog ended in the hands of backward point, leaving Masters to drive the spinner for six before he was run out going for a second run.
Masters continued the Essex recovery when he bowled Madsen, who made a double century in the previous game, for two and had Usman Khawaja well caught low down at second slip by Westley for a 14-ball duck.
Palladino was sent in as night watchman but Napier trapped him lbw in the penultimate over to end an absorbing day's play on a high note for Essex.