Northants in position to pick up a long-awaited win against Middlesex

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Northamptonshire closed in on their first LV= Insurance County Championship win over Middlesex since 2010 after the visitors suffered a fourth batting collapse of the season on day three at Wantage Road.

The visitors’ top order had misfired in their first three innings since returning to Division One and this was Groundhog Day as they plummeted from 37 for none to 107 for seven, Chris Tremain the chief destroyer with three for 41.

A 52-run stand between Toby Roland-Jones and Luke Hollman at least ensured there would be a fourth day, but needing only 119 to win the hosts closed on 30 for one, with Ricardo Vasconcelos the man to fall.

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Middlesex’s latest woes willow in hand came after Northamptonshire were bowled out for 198 on the stroke of lunch, a first innings lead of 49. Rob Keogh was left unbeaten on 75.

Chris Tremain has been in the wickets for NorthantsChris Tremain has been in the wickets for Northants
Chris Tremain has been in the wickets for Northants

Middlesex would have begun their second innings with some trepidation and Sam Robson, a man with just six runs to his name so far this season, should have added a nought to that tally, only for Josh Cobb to shell a comfortable catch at fourth slip.

However, although he and fellow England opener Mark Stoneman battled to 37, the sky then fell in once more.

Robson was castled by Ben Sanderson and just two balls later Pieter Malan shouldered arms only to see the ball send his off stump cartwheeling out of the ground.

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Stoneman perished soon afterwards, caught on the crease and pinned lbw as he had been in last week’s loss to Essex.

Stephen Eskinazi and Max Holden briefly stemmed the flow of wickets, but just five minutes before tea, the latter inexplicably hooked a short ball from Gareth Berg, skying a catch to the grateful Luke Procter at mid-on.

If tea in the away dressing-room was indigestible, things would only get worse two balls after the resumption as Tremain uprooted Eskinazi’s middle-stump and, in his next over, the Australian quick found the edge of Ryan Higgins’ bat, presenting Lewis McManus with a simple catch.

Not even wicketkeeper John Simpson, often the man for a crisis, could stop the rot, and when he drove another one from Tremain straight to cover, defeat in three days looked likely.

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Roland-Jones and Hollman eased those fears with an enterprising half-century stand, the former striking the ball powerfully to record a towering six and five fours in a swashbuckling 37.

Procter though shrewdly called on the spin of Keogh to break the burgeoning stand, luring Roland-Jones out of his crease to be stumped by McManus, after which the end came swiftly.

Keogh stood head and shoulders above the rest in the morning session to steer Northamptonshire to a priceless first innings lead.

The 31-year-old fresh, from his unbeaten second-inning century in last week’s defeat to Kent, made light of gloomy conditions and a pitch which had sweated under covers throughout the previous day when no play was possible.

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Keogh shrugged off the loss of skipper Procter in the first over of the day, caught at slip off Bamber to play the only innings of real quality.

As wickets tumbled around him, other Northamptonshire batters groping and prodding uncertainly, their middle-order stalwart cut and drove with real authority to move to a half century from 103 balls with seven fours,

Even so, with Bamber and Roland-Jones chipping away, the hosts were only 25 ahead when their ninth wicket fell.

It was the signal for Keogh to go on the attack, twice launching Higgins over the ropes for six, both blows ending up on the concourse.

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His belligerence meant by the time Jack White’s stumps were scattered by Roland Jones, Northamptonshire’s lead had stretched into the realms of more than useful.

And they will now look to finish the job on day four.