SUSSEX'S Luke Wells scored an unbeaten 98 to defy Durham on day two of the Specsavers County Championship Division Two clash at Emirates Riverside.

The home side appeared to have taken control of the contest after James Weighell and Chris Rushworth combined to reduce Sussex to 71-7. However, Wells led a rearguard action with the tail, adding 131 for the final three wickets to frustrate Durham, although he fell agonisingly short of a deserved century.

Ollie Robinson struck early in Durham's second innings, but Alex Lees and Cameron Bancroft were unbeaten at the close, leaving the North-East outfit 53 runs ahead going into day three.

Weighell said: "It ended being a long day which we didn't think it was going to be at one stage. The new ball did a lot early on and their lads came in later on and worked hard. It stopped seaming and swinging, Wells got himself into a position where he dictated play. We took our foot off the gas too soon and he ended up with a lot of runs to get them back towards our total.

"We did a lot better here than we did against Derbyshire. We managed to do all the work with the new ball then when it died down, we didn't keep our foot on enough and didn't capitalise to have a lead of 100 or even more.

"We know it's going to be hard in the morning with the new ball - it's a matter of getting through it, then for a couple of guys to get scores and put us into a good position for day four."

Durham began the day on 210-8, but were quickly dismissed after adding only 14 to their overnight total. David Wiese and Robinson removed Ben Raine and Rushworth respectively.

In response, Rushworth made inroads into the Sussex batting order in his first over as Phil Salt played a loose drive to fall for two. Wells was fortunate not to be run out by Raine, who missed the stumps with a throw from 10 yards. Raine did atone for his miss, striking to dismiss Tom Haines for 22.

Weighell took control before lunch, finding a rhythm from the Finchale End. He notched the crucial scalp of Stiaan van Zyl, who edged to Bancroft at second slip. Laurie Evans and Ben Brown soon followed, leaving the visitors reeling at 62-5 at lunch.

Matters did not improve after the interval for Sussex. Rushworth replaced Weighell, and enjoyed the same success as his team-mate. He bowled Matthew Burgess for nine before removing David Wiese's off-stump.

Amid the chaos at the other end, Wells maintained his vigil after previously surviving when he edged the ball between Jack Burnham and Bancroft in the slip cordon. He made the most of his opportunity, building a vital partnership with Chris Jordan to stem the tide. The 28-year-old made his fifty from 122 deliveries, scoring seven boundaries.

The partnership was broken on 48 when Jordan drilled a Gareth Harte delivery at Raine. Wells stayed home, forcing his partner to turn back halfway down the track. The throw from Raine was good enough for Ned Eckersley to run out Jordan for 25.

Wells kept the visitors' resistance alive, forming another stand with Robinson to thwart the Durham attack. The left-hander began to pierce the field to find the boundary with regularity, whittling down the deficit. Robinson made a solid 14 before he was bowled by Matt Salisbury, leaving Wells with the last man Mir Hamza.

Hamza held his own to allow Wells to open his arms to bring Sussex within 29 runs of the home side's total at the tea break. Wells look poised to notch his fifth century against Durham, but Hamza's defences gave way to Rushworth after 57 minutes at the crease, leaving his team-mate two runs shy of three figures.

Durham began their second innings with a lead of 22, only to be immediately pegged back when Robinson trapped Steel lbw for a duck. Lees and Bancroft were able to drop anchor in the remaining overs before the close as the hosts ended the day 31-1, 53 runs head of Sussex.