Middlesex 75 (Robinson 8 for 34) and 149 for 4 (Robson 61*) trail Sussex 309 (Wells 62, Carey 56, Beer 77, Roland-Jones 5 for 70) by 85 runs

A quorum of former Guardian cricket writers had descended upon Hove by pure happenstance on the second day and after much reminiscing about Great Stories We Have Known nobody had the faintest idea how to best write this piece. For much of the second half of the day nothing hugely newsworthy happened. Which, in a funny sort of way, was exactly what Middlesex needed as they sought a win to keep their promotion challenge alive from an all but hopeless position.

When you are bowled out for 75 on the first day, and suffer a heavy first-innings deficit as a consequence, about the best you could hope for in Middlesex's position was that the pitch quietened, the match became a backdrop for spectators' idle chatter and the second-innings score mounted quietly without anybody really noticing.

Sam Robson, a good player, slight yet judicious, and eminently capable of going about his work with barely a murmur, made an admirable attempt to maintain that mood until the close. He closed on 61 from 140 balls, a selective knock with 10 boundaries, but Middlesex, at 149 for 4, still trailed by 85.

Middlesex's first task as they faced a deficit of 234, if they were to get back into the match, was to subdue Ollie Robinson who had returned 8 for 34 - the best figures in the Championship this season - in the first innings. Robson did just that admirably, taking 26 from 42 balls from Robinson without much sign of risk. On this occasion, he met the medium pace of Tom Haines more cautiously, finding release only once in a drive down the ground.

By the close, however, Robinson's match tally had swollen to 10 wickets. Stevie Eskinazi was bowled through the gate in the first over and Paul Stirling, who made a third-ball nought, was to fall in identical fashion on a floodlit evening. Jared Warner, a Yorkshire loanee, had Nick Gubbins caught at second slip, although his most dangerous ball came late on when he had Robson leaping in self preservation.

That left Dawid Malan, a prize wicket, an excellent first scalp for the debutant left-arm spinner, Elliot Hooper. Malan was unfortunate as his dead bat could not prevent the ball from running into the stumps. He has had a fine season for all that and one senses that in a parallel universe, with England clearly needing an uncompromising character in the middle order, he would be batting against Australia in the Ashes.

If Middlesex's descent to 74 all out was galling enough on the opening day, at least it owed much to the excellence of Robinson on a surface that seamed little and often. But their concession of that lead of 234 must have been more exasperating for their coach Stuart Law as they dragged themselves back into the match only to throw it all away in a careless half-hour before lunch.

Sussex resumed at 128 for three with a lead of 53 and, although Luke Wells and Alex Carey both registered half-centuries in extending their fourth-wicket stand to 125 in 38 overs, the loss of four wickets for 11 runs in 37 balls thrust Middlesex back into the match.

Toby Roland-Jones took three of them, running in long and languidly from the Cromwell Road End, a bowler with an approach so extensive that it might have a bus stop en route. He did not find the movement that Robinson had on the first day, but he finished with a creditable 5 for 70, removing Wells with a chip into the leg side, Carey to an on-drive that flew to second slip and David Wiese, caught at the wicket for nought. Ben Brown perished, too, for nought, cutting at Tim Murtagh.

With Sussex's lead 76, and three wickets to get, Middlesex were back in the match, only to cast aside their recovery in a dreadful half hour before lunch when Steven Finn and James Harris leaked 57 in six overs down the slope - and one of those was a Finn maiden.

There were 13 boundaries in that spell and, as well as Robinson and Will Beer counter-attacked, many of them were gifts. As another half volley was dispatched to an invitingly short leg side boundary, the opening line of Amy Winehouse's song, "Me & Mr Jones", came to mind.

Ever since he made a century on debut for Sussex, Robinson's danger with the bat has been apparent and Beer, primarily a legspinner, has busied himself over much of the past decade as Sussex 2nd XI's most reliable batsman. Nevertheless, as a soft period that exemplified why Middlesex why lie sixth when many expected them to be comfortably in the top three it took some beating.

By the time Robinson tapped back a full toss from the legspinner Nathan Sowter immediately after lunch, Sussex were running free. Even at nine down, Middlesex were not free from self-inflicted wounds, this time quite literally as Beer slapped Sowter's long hop to long off where Finn was struck in the face as the ball ran through his hands.At the time it summed matters up. It will take a lot more of Sam Robson, or someone else, to change that.