Essex 177 (Tongue 4-45) and 275 (Lawrence 71, Cook 66, Tongue 5-53) beat Worcestershire 238 (Clarke 105) and 182 (Head 62, Siddle 5-37, Harmer 5-43) by 32 runs
It seems faintly absurd to be speaking in such terms in the second week of May but avoiding relegation may already be beyond Worcestershire, whose return to Division One has so far been an almost unbroken tale of woe. Five matches nowadays equates to more than a third of the season and this was a fourth defeat. The difference between their points tally and that of the team in sixth place will be ominously large whichever way other results go.
The only consolation they might cling to is that the disjointed nature of the Championship programme means they do not play red-ball cricket again until the last two weeks of June, which at least means they have plenty of time to analyse what has gone wrong.
Josh Tongue bowled impressively again, finishing with 5 for 53 for a career-best match return of 9 for 98, dismissing both Dan Lawrence and Ravi Bopara for the second time in the match.
In Tongue and Joe Clarke, their stand-out performers here, Worcestershire have two of the most promising young players on the county circuit. Unfortunately there was painfully little support. Travis Head's half-century kept Worcestershire in with a chance of achieving their last-innings target but he could not play the genuinely dominant role the situation demanded.
Indeed, it was his countryman Peter Siddle, wrapping up his five-match spell with Essex with his best figures, who spearheaded a win that was as important for the defending champions as defeat is damaging to their opponents, lifting them closer to the top of the table after a beginning to their title defence that their captain, Ryan ten Doeschate, admitted had been difficult.
"The expectation is different this time and we have felt the pressure of wanting to retain the title," he said afterwards. "And with some tricky wickets early on our batting has not clicked as it did last year.
"So this is an important win. Completing the first five fixtures with almost 57 points instead of 37 is pretty big, just for the confidence of the side. We have not played our best cricket and to scrape two wins is a good return."
The day had begun with Essex 82 in front and four wickets down. Warm sunshine suggested the bat might begin to take the upper hand but the battle remained evenly joined at lunch, 123 runs added, four wickets lost.
There was a suspicion, nonetheless, that the partnership between Lawrence and James Foster, which put on 63 in 13 overs before Tongue surprised the Essex wicketkeeper with a little extra bounce and had him caught behind, had taken the game away from Worcestershire. But Lawrence fell just before the break, given out lbw as he tried to work to leg, and after Worcestershire restarted with a new ball the innings ended quickly, Tongue claiming Simon Harmer as his fifth wicket.
It left Worcestershire needing 215 to record their first victory of the season. The locals were hardly confident, less so at 97 for 5 shortly after tea, still 118 short of the target.
Siddle, eager to be a match-winner this time after taking eight wickets in a losing cause in last week's extraordinary match with Yorkshire, was given the new ball and repaid his captain as the best overseas players should, taking three wickets for 14 in his opening nine-over spell and returning to add a fourth with his fourth ball after tea, which meant that most of Worcestershire's run-scoring potential was already eroded.
Head's 62 was his best score so far for Worcestershire, but it somehow never quite looked like a match-winning innings. He and Ed Barnard added 63 for the sixth wicket, but with the latter's demise, bowled behind his legs trying to sweep Harmer, whose own early-season struggle for form has been another negative for Essex, the long Worcestershire tail was exposed and the win was there for the taking.