Essex 431 (Ryder 120*, Browne 118) beat Worcestershire 84 (Ryder 5-24) and 255 (Moeen 98, D'Oliveira 44, Napier 5-54) by an innings and 92 runs
As on the first morning, Essex's bowlers tore through Worcestershire, finishing the job they had started two days ago. Victory had practically been assured after ten wickets fell in the first session of the game - practically assured from the moment the toss was conducted, according to Steve Rhodes - but there was little of the accompanying drama as both sides trudged off the final time this season with a metaphorical pebble in the shoe.
For Essex, Hampshire's imperious dismantling of Glamorgan, which would be confirmed within the following hour, meant that they missed out on promotion once again. It was small consolation for Paul Grayson that his side, who won six of their last seven games, collected the highest number of points (229) by a team finishing third in Division Two.
No team has accumulated that many before and not gone up and only once would they have finished outside the top two - in 2003, the days of three up, three down, when Worcestershire and Northamptonshire had 245.75 and 237 respectively but Gloucestershire were still promoted with 190 points in third.
Worcestershire, meanwhile, were also left feeling bilked by Hampshire. The two were tied at the top for most of the season but, with four games left, Worcestershire had a 45-point advantage on Hampshire. That lead was steadily eroded and, needing what turned out to be five points from their visit to Chelmsford to pick up the Division Two title, they fell painfully short. The cost is to pockets as well as pride: club and players will share around £50,000 in prize money, half of what the champions receive.
Grayson has watched his side miss out altogether for a fifth season running, after they last won promotion in 2009, but took great encouragement from the second half of Essex's Championship campaign. In all formats, Essex won 22 matches in 2014, behind only Warwickshire, T20 champions and runners-up in 50-over and Championship cricket, who were victorious 24 times.
"I'm really pleased with the cricket we've played this year, especially in the second half of the Championship," Grayson said. "Our form in four-day cricket over the last six weeks has been outstanding. I feel for the players, because there's four or five lads who really deserve to play in Division One."
Essex used 25 players in the Championship this year and the first half of their campaign was undermined by a "horrific" injury list which at one point saw David Masters, Graham Napier, Reece Topley and Tymal Mills all injured at the same time. Essex's only two defeats came against Hampshire and Worcestershire but they fell off the pace in failing to win for eight games after their opening fixture. "When we put our best 11-12 on the park, we would give any team in the country a good game," Grayson said.
"We were struggling for players, we played a few triallists, played a few academy players, a few club players, couple of lads out of minor counties - but when you miss the quality of that attack, it's very difficult to get 20 wickets and win games. One more win early season, I think would have given us a great chance of getting promotion. But credit to Hampshire and Worcestershire, and good luck to them, they've played some very consistent cricket all year.
"I'm disappointed with the fact we didn't win a one-day trophy this year because we felt we were strong in both formats. We won 10 matches in our T20 campaign, had a quarter-final here against Warwickshire - but they played better than us. Then we played them in the quarter-final of the 50 overs and they played better than us again. That was the tough one to take, because we felt we would win a one-day trophy this year."
Rhodes can look forward to Division One cricket again after Worcestershire's fifth promotion since the Championship was split. However, he felt Essex had taken a "big gamble" with the pitch, which was green in the middle and bare at both ends, and said his side's chances of securing the title had effectively disappeared with the flip of a coin.
"We came knowing we needed six points," he said. "So when we turned up, we were absolutely desperate to win the toss because the wicket it was obvious was going to be darting around all over the place. When we lost that toss, it was a major, major blow to us trying to get any batting points. That first morning, to try and get to 200 and a first batting point, that was a hell of a task.
"We were 33-1 outsiders to win promotion at the start of the season, so for us to do that has been excellent. We've got a very, very young side and they'll be better for the experience."
With the script written in this match, Napier burst into the spotlight as Essex came close to wrapping things up inside the first session. Masters nipped one through Tom Fell's defences to break an 82-run partnership with Moeen Ali, before Napier struck twice in his first over. He bettered that with three more in five balls, denying Moeen a century when he top-edged a pull to midwicket on 98. Napier had taken 5 for 11 in 25 deliveries at that stage but Jack Shantry and Brett D'Oliveira ensured lunch would be taken one last time at the ECG with an enterprising stand.