DURHAM have wasted no time in bringing their title-winning nous to bear and since their attritional approach laid the foundation on the first day they have steadily cranked it up at Northampton.
They will go into the final day 253 ahead with five wickets standing but might need some assistance from the hitherto placid pitch to force a victory.
Given the quality of the surface it is amazing that no-one has made a century of the 11 batsmen who have so far passed 40 in the match.
Michael Richardson will hope to be the first to three figures after following his 80 in the first innings with an impressively assured unbeaten 53.
Matthew Spriegel surrendered on 97 to Usman Arshad, who bagged his first four-wicket haul as Durham dismissed Northants for 378.
A first innings lead of 74.then began to look useful as Durham lost both openers in slipping to 38 for two, but they confidently added 133 in the evening session to close on 178 for five.
They should be encouraged by the fact that off-spinner James Middlebrook took four of the wickets, so Scott Borthwick and Gareth Breese should come into play today. Hopefully they will bring the over-rate back up to scratch from its current minus three.
After a heavy morning frost rarely can a cloudless day in the cricket season have felt so chilly, but Borthwick’s batting after tea warmed the hearts of the Durham fans who have taken advantage of one of only three opportunities this season to watch a championship match on a non-Test ground.
His back-foot shots on either side of the wicket oozed class, but when Middlebrook came on Borthwick edged an attempted cut to the wicketkeeper to depart for 47.
There was a minor wobble as Phil Mustard then hit three fours, only to fall lbw when trying to sweep Middlebrook.
Paul Collingwood probably felt it necessary to dig in at that point to avoid his team being dismissed with a lead of fewer than 300. But after playing himself in for five overs he twice pulled Steven Crook for four then drove Middlebrook for six.
He fell for 31 three overs from the close, well caught at slip by Andrew Hall when trying to drive the off-spinner.
One concern for Collingwood is that his new-ball bowlers failed to strike in the first innings, when Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth had combined figures of one for 147.
It was the young guns who took the wickets as Arshad recorded four for 78 and Jamie Harrison three for 83.
Durham would probably have settled for taking four wickets in the morning after Northants added 31 with ominous ease in the first half hour.
Collingwood’s bowling changes paid dividends as Borthwick struck with his third ball and Keaton Jennings with his second.
The other two wickets fell in successive Arshad overs after he had erred in length in his previous few overs and taken some stick from Spriegel.
Borthwick had the dangerous Rob Newton caught at slip by Collingwood for 43 and bowled tidily until he conceded 15 in his eighth over, when Crook cut two fours and Spriegel swept a boundary behind square.
Hall was looking to turn a full-length ball from Arshad behind square leg when he was given out lbw by Tim Robinson, who had previously been reluctant to give anything.
David Willey opened up by driving Borthwick to long-on for four but then hit a back-foot shot off Arshad straight into the hands of Breese at cover.
Jennings came on five overs before the new ball was due and struck Crook on the pads with his first two balls. The stifled appeal off the first probably meant the batsman had nicked it, but the second brought another raised finger from umpire Robinson.
A frustrating seventh-wicket stand of 67 ended after Spriegel edged and cover drove successive balls from Arshad for four. He attempted a fierce off the next and edged to Mustard.
Last man Maurice Chambers produced two imperious on-drives for four off Harrison before Arshad wrapped it up.
When Durham began their second innings Mark Stoneman failed for the second time, edging Maurice Chambers to first slip for one and Jennings departed for 21 as soon as Middlebrook came on, edging to slip.
But Borthwick and Richardson played superbly after tea, putting on 70 as Durham motored on to set up an intriguing final day.
Overnight: Durham 452 (P Mustard 91, M J
Richardson 80, J Harrison 65,G R Breese 62,
K K Jennings 54). Northamptonshire 200-3 (K
J Coetzer 53, SD Peters 51).
Northamptonshire First Innings
M N Spriegel c Mustard b Arshad .........97
R I Newton c Collingwood b Borthwick 43
A J Hall lbw b Arshad ........................... 7
D J Willey c Breese b Arshad ................ 5
S P Crook lbw b Jennings ....................22
D Murphy c Collingwood b Harrison ....20
M A Chambers not out ....................... 8
Azharullah c Breese b Arshad ............. 5
Extras (b4 lb12 nb8 pens 0) ........24
Total (103.1 overs) .......................378
Fall: 1-66 2-128 3-166 4-231 5-256 6-268
7-296 8-363 9-363
Bowling: Onions 26-6-86-1. Rushworth 20-
7-61-0. Harrison 23-5-83-3. Borthwick 10-2-
50-1. Arshad 21.1-4-78-4. Jennings 3-1-4-1.
Durham Second Innings Close
M D Stoneman c Middlebrook b Chambers 1
K K Jennings c Murphy b Middlebrook 21
S G Borthwick c Murphy b Middlebrook 47
M J Richardson not out ......................53
P Mustard lbw b Middlebrook .............12
P D Collingwood c Hall b Middlebrook .31
G R Breese not out ............................. 5
Extras (b4 lb4 pens 0) ................. 8
Total 5 wkts (45 overs).................178
Fall: 1-8 2-38 3-108 4-126 5-172
To Bat: Usman Arshad, G Onions, J Harrison,
Bowling: Chambers 10-1-33-1. Azharullah 7-
1-27-0. Middlebrook 13-4-39-4. Crook 10-0-
45-0. Hall 5-0-26-0.