Worcestershire 243 (Barnard 55, Mullaney 4-31) and 123 for 2 (Mitchell 63*) require a further 103 runs to beat Nottinghamshire 193 and 275 (Wessels 60, Leach 5-69)
Chris Read was treated to a guard of honour from Worcestershire as he approached the square, and received two standing ovations from the weather-beaten members gathered in front of the even more weather-beaten old pavilion, but he will have to wait to see if his final match at Trent Bridge will end in victory.
He did his utmost to ensure it would, squirrelling 38 from 43 balls in typically energetic style, and extending Nottinghamshire's second innings to 275 - a lead of 225 - in a match where the lower order has repeatedly been asked to organise a rescue job after the failures of those above.
He fell lbw to a ball that cut back sharply from Ed Barnard, whose improvement was evident as he passed the outside edge regularly to take eight wickets in the match. But it was the burly figure of Joe Leach whose five wickets gave him 58 for the season at 20.15, the most in the Division. Worcestershire have Leach, Barnard and Josh Tongue in the top six - the heart of their promotion challenge.
Leach, Worcestershire's captain, said of Read: "He's a legend of the game. We've got a lot of respect for players who have played for as long as he has and achieved what he has in the game, so it's a no-brainer to do something like that. I'm glad that he got the reception that he deserved."
Worcestershire's target felt attainable but challenging - a 50-50 call - but they begin the final day on 123 for 2, only 103 from victory, and thanks to the work already done must now be regarded as favourites on a surface that is still offering assistance to the seamers, but where they have ample time to gather the outstanding runs before the advent of the second new ball. "We've set a good platform," said Leach before warning: "The pitch still has balls in it."
Nottinghamshire's unbeaten Championship record is not quite lost yet, but Daryl Mitchell's unbeaten 63, compiled with great deliberation, has given Worcestershire an excellent chance of an outstanding victory that would strengthen their hold on second place - and the promotion spot that goes with it.
They have achieved that without a wicket from their Indian Test spinner, Ravi Ashwin, who did not bowl at all in the first innings and, second time around, returned 0 for 47 from 12 overs. He will doubtless come into his own when Worcestershire return to New Road against winless Leicestershire next week.
Notts resumed their second innings on 138 for 5 at the start of the day and lost Jake Libby in just the fourth over. Libby had battled manfully through the third evening, but Barnard defeated him with one that came back sharply, striking his off stump as he was initially minded to leave the ball. Leach then had Brendan Taylor caught behind for 18, before pinning Brett Hutton lbw for 32.
Read still has two away matches to play until retirement, before taking up a cricket coaching role at Uppingham School - the private schools being a common and invaluable pathway for retiring professionals of repute and one which the other outstanding keeper of his generation, James Foster, has also followed. It would be a nice wind-up for retiring county pros to ring their local State school and propose themselves as cricket master and see how that one panned out.
A stolen boundary backward of point to the short boundary was a reminder of the nous that has been a feature of Read's batting in the last ten years of his career, but there were flowing drives, too, as well as a violent pulled six off Tongue. A ninth-wicket stand of 56 with Jake Ball gave Nottinghamshire hope.
Worcestershire approached their chase with caution, Mitchell and George Rhodes putting on 57 before Brett Hutton bowled Rhodes. "Comprehensively bowled," boomed the PA announcer, allowing himself the liberty of an extra adverb as the stumps were scattered, but it was a good start all the same. Perhaps Worcestershire will manage a comprehensive win.
They also lost Tom Fell, dropped on 4 by Cheteshwar Pujara at third slip, and eventually bowled by Steven Mullaney for 30. The umpires immediately convened and Joe Clarke, who was bowled first ball on the second day, was sent back from whence he came with 22.1 overs still remaining. The forecast for the final day is unsettled, but a result should be obtainable before the rain is forecast to arrive.