Durham climbed a place in the Specsavers County Championship First Division yesterday, despite succumbing to a 228-run drubbing from Yorkshire.
But Jon Lewis’s men remain in danger of relegation as second-bottom Hampshire closed the gap to six points, albeit Durham have an extra game to play.
It could have been worse, though, as Kumar Sangakkara led Surrey to the safety of a draw against Hampshire yesterday when defeat looked a distinct possibility at one point.
Victory at home to Surrey, in a game starting on Monday, should guarantee survival for Durham, otherwise they could face a do-or-die final match against Hampshire at the Rose Bowl, beginning on Tuesday week.
Yesterday, Yorkshire took a big step towards securing a third consecutive title by finishing off Durham midway through the final afternoon at Headingley.
Yorkshire have now won five home matches this season and drawn all their away games and the only time that Durham offered any real resistance was in the first half of their first innings.
Resuming on 39-3 in the morning, still 381 runs adrift, Durham needed to do something remarkable if they were to cling on and save the match, but Ryan Sidebottom soon dashed any hopes of a prolonged recovery.
The 38-year-old captured 3-10 in his first 4.3 overs as the visitors slumped to 63-6 and he went on to register season-best figures of 4-34.
Nightwatchman Graham Onions drove into the covers where Gary Ballance took a two-handed diving catch, Scott Borthwick got into a tangle in his crease and was lbw and Paul Collingwood was similarly dismissed not attempting a stroke.
The slide was halted for a while by Graham Clark and Michael Richardson, often a thorn in Yorkshire’s flesh, and they put on 49 before Clark nibbled at Tim Bresnan and was caught behind.
Northern pride stood in the way of Durham throwing in the towel and Richardson and Ryan Pringle held out until lunch and continued their fight into the afternoon.
Then Sidebottom turned the screw again as Richardson aimed into the off-side but got a touch and keeper Andrew Hodd took the catch.
Adam Lyth, one of the best slip fielders in the country, made no mistake when Barry McCarthy edged Bresnan low to second slip, and Jack Brooks ended the match spectacularly by ripping two of Chris Rushworth’s stumps clean out of the ground. Durham were all out for 192.
Meanwhile, Durham’s England all-rounder Ben Stokes has signed a new one-year contract extension. Chief executive David Harker said: “We’re delighted he has chosen to carry on his county career with Durham.”
“He is approaching the prime years of his career – and while we may not see him as much as we would like over the next year, his influence remains huge around the club.”
Speaking after sinking Durham, Yorkshire veteran Sidebottom said: “It is always nice to get your best figures towards the end of the season and I think we in a strong position now and in the ascendancy.
“We are playing good cricket with bat and ball and the pressure is on Middlesex.
“It should be a very interesting finish and everyone is looking forward to the last game of the season at Lord’s, so we need to do well in that and also against Somerset next week.
“It will boil down to who is playing the best cricket but the pressure is on Middlesex to keep going and we know how to win.
“In the last two or three years, I don’t think we have always played great cricket as a team, but when it has mattered we have stood up and been counted.
“Over the last few games, we have grown in confidence as a team and with Dizzy (coach Jason Gillespie) going at the end of the season it would be great to send him off on a winning note.”
Yorkshire captain, Andrew Gale added: “I think this was our best all-round performance of the year. To get 460 on a pretty tough pitch with plenty of moisture in it was very good and out bowling has been outstanding.
“It would have been nice if Middlesex had slipped up, but they have played some good cricket and everything is pointing to a Lord’s finale.
“Middlesex are desperate to win it and we are also desperate to it three times in a row.
“But Somerset won’t be easy next week. We have a fantastic home record and all we can do is to keep on winning.”
Starting Monday: Durham v Surrey, Lancashire v Middlesex, Yorkshire v Somerset
Starting September 20: Hampshire v Durham, Middlesex v Yorkshire, Somerset v Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire v Lancashire