Derbyshire 165 (Napier 4-28) and 213 for 5 (Godleman 100) trail Essex 530 for 9 by 152 runs
Billy Godleman staged a one-man roadblock but Essex remain on course to boost their promotion chances after Derbyshire were forced to follow-on in the Division Two match at Derby. The former Essex batsman frustrated the bowlers for 55 overs to score 100 and Wayne Madsen completed 1000 Championship runs for the season but the home side closed day three facing defeat on 213 for 5, still trailing by 152 runs.
Essex would have fancied their chances of wrapping up victory with a day to spare after Graham Napier, with 4 for 28, and Ravi Bopara had polished off Derbyshire's first innings before lunch.
The home side had showed fight from the first ball of the morning, with Alex Mellor and Matt Critchley taking their seventh wicket stand to 70 in 25 overs before Napier broke through. Mellor had been dropped by Tom Westley at second slip in the previous over but failed to add to his 44 when he edged a ball that moved away enough to give James Foster the first of two victims before lunch.
Napier produced an unplayable inswinging yorker to bowl Tom Milnes first ball but Critchley negotiated the hat-trick ball before he steered Bopara to gully. When Bopara defeated Callum Parkinson's defensive push, Essex had run through Derbyshire in less than 66 overs but they encountered greater resistance after enforcing the follow-on with a flat pitch and cloudless skies assisting the home side's rearguard.
Godleman and Ben Slater negotiated a tricky five overs before lunch and then batted well into the afternoon before Napier, who switched to the City End, had Slater taken low at second slip by Westley. But Essex had to wait another 30 overs for their next success as Alex Hughes joined Godleman, who cut Jamie Porter for four to reach 50 and then drove Westley over long-off for six.
Hughes concentrated on survival, facing 99 balls for his 23, before he chased a wide one from Paul Walter, and the wicket Essex most wanted came three overs later. Godleman cut Walter for three to reach his third hundred of the season but, in the next over, he was lbw to Napier and Essex struck two more blows in the closing overs.
Madsen had pulled Bopara for four to reach his milestone but was squared-up by Will Rhodes and snared at third slip for 37 and, without addition to the score, Bopara forced Neil Broom to play on for 13 in the penultimate over.