Essex 278 for 6 (Westley 123, Browne 65) trail Warwickshire 517 (Lamb 173, Hain 82, Patel 51*) by 239 runs
Consistent, accurate bowling and diligent, resilient batting have been the feature of this match, but on a durable and somewhat slow pitch those worthy qualities looked unlikely to lead to a positive result in favour of either side until a wobbly final 45 minutes put Essex in unexpected trouble.
Warwickshire supporters will not complain. Another defeat for Nottinghamshire, their opponents at Trent Bridge next week, means that, provided they do not somehow contrive to lose this match, which seems almost impossible, they can look forward to another season of Division One cricket in 2020.
For Essex, on the other hand, the interruption to their run of six straight wins could not come at a less opportune moment, title rivals Somerset having stolen a march on them with their victory over Yorkshire with only two rounds of fixtures left. They must still face each other at Taunton the week after next, but Somerset may be in the position of needing only a draw to claim their maiden Championship crown.
Tom Westley compiled his first hundred of the season and Nick Browne a half-century, but Essex's hand of batting bonus points is not as handsome as they had hoped for, as a result of which, again assuming a draw, Somerset will probably take a lead of seven points into the final two weeks.
Essex resumed on 31 for one after losing Alastair Cook late on the second evening, but night-watchman Sam Cook was gone in the sixth over of the morning, well taken at second slip off Oliver Hannon-Dalby, who was getting enough movement to beat the bat with encouraging frequency for the home side.
However, Browne and Westley had clearly learned from the disciplined approach that had favoured Matt Lamb in particular during Warwickshire's marathon first innings. The seamers were equally consistent in keeping to a tempting length but the third-wicket pair were able to negotiate a path to lunch.
Their biggest test was always likely to be posed by Jeetan Patel, who was unlucky not to dismiss Westley on 43 when Sam Hain put down a sharp chance at short leg. An hour into the afternoon session, Patel did get his reward, a flighted delivery finding a way inside Browne's defensive push.
Next man Tom Lawrence was never able to find any real fluency and probably should have gone on 16 when Michael Burgess, keeping wicket in place of the injured Tim Ambrose, missed a stumping opportunity.
Westley completed his hundred around half an hour into the final session, steering a ball from Hannon-Dalby square on the offside for his 13th boundary, having batted with exemplary concentration save for that one aberration for four hours and 21 minutes.
By then, however, Lawrence had gone, caught at point off George Garrett, a young bowler who is among several whose progress has been accelerated by Warwickshire's seemingly endless injury crisis. His departure for 28 sparked a nervy end to the day.
Ravi Bopara was bowled playing back to Patel and Ryan ten Doeschate went without scoring, leg before without scoring to a ball from Henry Brookes that struck him on the back pad as he tried to bring the bat down. When fading light forced a slightly premature close, Essex were suddenly in a spot of bother that they will need to ensure does not become worse on the final morning, still 90 runs short of avoiding the follow-on.
Nottinghamshire have been so woeful that the possibility that Warwickshire would occupy this season's one relegation place instead has looked remote for some weeks, if not months. Nonetheless, it has been a challenging season for on-field and off-field teams at Edgbaston, not least those in the physiotherapy room.
The raft of injuries that has kept them busy has forced Warwickshire to use 24 players in the Championship, the most of any of the top division teams. Every match seems to introduce a new name on the scorecard, in this instance Ethan Brookes, the younger brother of Henry.
This was always likely to be a season of consolidation and, in that respect, it appears the objective has been achieved.