Essex are in a strong position to complete their second LV= County Championship Division Two win of the season at the Essex County Ground tomorrow, having reduced Gloucestershire to 194 for four in their second innings - still needing a further 123 runs to make the home side bat again.
Conceding a first-innings deficit of 317 after Essex made 541 to Gloucestershire's opening effort of 224, the visitors were dealt a double blow when they lost Alex Gidman and Hamish Marshall to left-arm 20-year-old paceman Reece Topley after the pair had composed a third-wicket partnership of 95.
If they are to survive and emerge with a draw, then much now rests on the shoulders of Ian Cockbain and Will Gidman whose unbroken partnership late in the day spanning 80 minutes and producing 66 runs does at least offer some hope for the visitors. Cockbain will resume on 42 while Gidman is 26 not out.
David Masters, now 36 but as effective as ever, had ensured a wretched start for the visitors when they began their uphill task.
The wily bowler plucked out both openers in his first five overs with the new ball. Will Tavare had just got off the mark when an indecisive prod forward saw him receive the inevitable lbw verdict.
Masters then found the edge as Chris Dent, who had raced to 24 all in boundaries and all off the bowling of Topley, pushed half-forward to steer the ball into the gloves of James Foster who accepted his seventh catch of the game to leave the visitors 30 for two.
— Essex Cricket (@EssexCricket) July 1, 2014
Alex Gidman had shown judicious shot-selection to post a 95-ball half-century with seven fours but with his score on 53, he fell to a Topley delivery that swung late and took off stump.
Now 125 for three, Gloucestershire lost the wicket of Marshall three runs and two overs later when Topley struck again. The batsman had reached 43 when he pushed at a wider delivery but nicked the ball behind the wicket.
That left Cockbain and Will Gidman with the responsibility of surviving the remaining 21 overs of the day - a task they completed successfully despite the ball passing the outside edge on a number of occasions.
Earlier, and resuming on their overnight 425 for three with a grip already on the game, Essex added 116 to their overnight score whilst losing their remaining seven wickets, many in the pursuit of quick runs to turn the screw tighter.
Ravi Bopara began the day needing only two runs to complete his second championship century in three matches and he required only three deliveries to reach the milestone.
It arrived in some style when he despatched a delivery from off-break bowler Jack Taylor over the ropes at long-on and the England all-rounder, who is desperate to resume his Test career this summer, was to continue to reach 147 before being dismissed.
Essex had lost the wicket of Foster early on when he was caught at square-leg for 54 to give Jack Taylor the first of his four wickets that ended the 104-run partnership for the fourth wicket.
— Essex Cricket (@EssexCricket) July 1, 2014
Ben Foakes joined Bopara, who had played with increased tempo after reaching three figures, but their 69-run stand ended when Bopara was bowled around his legs by slow left-armer Tom Smith to leave the hosts 509 for five.
With the demise of Bopara, Essex opted for a cavalier approach which cost them their last five wickets to the spin combination of Taylor and Smith whilst adding just 32 runs.
Apart from Ryan ten Doeschate, who was trapped on the crease by Taylor for 11, the other four batsmen perished to catches in the deep. Graham Napier and Masters holed out to long-on whilst Foakes, who chipped in a useful 34, and Monty Panesar picked out long-on and long-off respectively.
Taylor and Smith stuck to their task admirably and were rewarded for their perseverance, with the former returning career-best figures of 4-125 whilst the latter claimed 3-101 as the innings was wrapped up on the stroke of lunch.
Essex seamer Masters said: "We are definitely right on top but we weren't expecting them to roll over. We knew we would have to work hard because they are one of those teams who will fight hard right to the end but I can only see one team to win this game."
Gloucestershire's Taylor said: "My rewards came at the end although I didn't think for a while that they were going to come. It was hard work but I enjoyed the challenge and it's nice to be back playing first-class cricket."