Essex managed to slightly improve their position on a rain affected third day against Lancashire at Old Trafford - as they put on 83 further runs to lead by 252 going into what could be an intriguing fourth day.
Resuming on 120-2, the visitors moved on to 203-3 when rain brought about an early end to the day's play, losing just England skipper Alastair Cook as their only wicket to fall.
It did come as an early blow though, with Essex having added just 12 more runs before Cook edged a fine lifting delivery from Kyle Hogg to wicketkeeper Gareth Cross and was dismissed for 60.
However, Jaik Mickleburgh and Mark Pettini made light of this blow and had added an unbroken 71 runs for the fourth wicket by lunch. Both batsmen played with composure and polished ease against an accurate Lancashire attack.
Slow left-armer Stephen Parry, playing his first County Championship match since 2009, bowled a high-quality 13-over spell which cost just 29 runs and ensured the Essex pair could not score at will.
But the Lancashire bowlers could not prevent Mickleburgh reaching his first Championship fifty of the season, which he achieved with a back foot push for two off Wayne White. The Essex batsman reached his landmark off 143 balls with four boundaries.
With one day left in the match both sides will be need good weather to give them a chance of forcing a win.
Essex may find that an enterprising declaration will pay dividends against a Lancashire batting order which is lacking in confidence, although both Simon Katich and Ashwell Prince have proved themselves capable of scoring quickly at Old Trafford this season.
The wicket being used for this match offers encouragement to both batsmen and bowlers.