Despite briefly flirting with a dart for victory through a Jos Buttler cameo, Lancashire held on for a draw against Middlesex at Old Trafford.
As a result, Middlesex lead the County Championship by nine points from Yorkshire, their opponents in the final round. Somerset, who are a point behind Yorkshire, face Nottinghamshire at Taunton.
Middlesex captain James Franklin said: “In the end we had a tricky morning this morning to contend with, and Malan and Simpson did a great job. We had a little crack at the end. It was team effort, and that’s why we are in the position we are in. We have one more hurdle to get over, we have a huge week next week.
On next week's potential title decider with Yorkshire at Lord's he added: "It’s dangerous to want and need a draw. We want to beat Yorkshire. Nothing changes just because it’s the last game and there is potential of nice rewards at the end of it. We need to be clear with our thought processes and go again."
Resuming on the final day with a lead of 140, David Malan and John Simpson’s stand of 151 provided the backbone of Middlesex’s second innings 259 for eight declared, which set up a chase of 309 from 44 overs.
Malan and Simpson had come together with their side wavering on the third afternoon, but had dug in to reach stumps and it was more of the same against high quality bowling from Simon Kerrigan - who finished with 6-86, and match figures of 10-166 - and Kyle Jarvis. Both waited for the bad ball, and made it through the morning session unscathed, recording elegant half-centuries.
Malan, having smacked the Lancashire captain Steven Croft down the ground for six, reached his half-century from 128 balls, with five fours. Simpson, playing busily and repelling impressive turn from Liam Livingstone’s leg-breaks, brought up his own 50 with a cover driven four off Kerrigan, from his 150th ball.
Both fell as Middlesex looked to push on after lunch. Malan reached 87 before edging behind trying to cut Kerrigan, while Toby Roland-Jones sliced to point and James Franklin was caught at long-on, also both to Kerrigan. Simpson fell shortly before the declaration arrived, bowled by Luke Procter.
Lancashire opted to promote Buttler, England’s interim ODI captain, to open the batting ahead of Haseeb Hameed. Buttler was immediately into his work, carving his first and third balls (from Steven Finn) for four through the offside, and unfurling an array of ramps and scoops. After nine balls, he had 24, while his partner Rob Jones - a first innings centurion - was still on 0.
But Buttler tried to flick Finn to leg and was caught by Nick Compton at cover, departing with all 26 Lancashire runs to his name. From there, Jones, 20, and Hameed, 19, dropped anchor and batted out impressively for the draw.
There were some dashing strokes, particularly from Jones down the ground to Ollie Rayner, while Hameed nudged and nurdled until Middlesex captain Franklin offered a handshake at 4.30pm. Both batsmen ended with 25 as Lancashire reached 80-1.
Middlesex took 11 points, and Lancashire nine, which takes them to fifth place, 14 points above Hampshire, who are eighth. Lancashire face sixth-placed Warwickshire at Edgbaston from Tuesday.
Lancashire coach Ashley Giles: “It was a good fightback. We didn't bowl well on the first day, or field well. We showed a lot of character from there. Had Middlesex not been in such a tight position maybe they would have given themselves a bit more time to bowl us out. I’m delighted with some of the individual performances, but this was the story of the season, we need to start better, and get into games quicker."