Essex (517-5d and 17-2) lead Somerset (409) by 127 runs

ESSEX were made to pay for dropping James Hildreth early on as Somerset eased past their follow-on target in the day-night Specsavers County Championship match at Chelmsford.

Hildreth, who went on to be the stubborn mainstay of Somerset's innings with a 148-ball 78, received his life on 16, which would have left Somerset 159 for four, still 209 runs short of the 368 required to make Essex bat again.

In the end they reached that target with two wickets in hand and went on to finish within 110 runs of Essex’s first-innings 517 for five declared.

That it was Somerset’s day was confirmed when they claimed two Essex wickets in the last nine overs of the day under the floodlights to leave the hosts teetering on 17 for two at the close.

It could have been different had Tom Westley held on when Simon Harmer induced a false shot by Hildreth which flew just over the slip’s head.

Westley was only back in the close-catching position for the first time this season after breaking a finger during the winter, because Alastair Cook was suffering from tonsillitis.

Westley also took the absent Cook’s place at the top of the order but went lbw to Josh Davey for a second-ball duck to continue his disappointing run of form.

Only 15 wickets had fallen in just shy of nine sessions on a flat, batsmen-friendly track.

But Essex lost a second wicket in eight balls, with Michael Pepper following Westley back to the Pavilion after he was trapped lbw by Lewis Gregory.

In addition to Hildreth’s let-off, Essex also thought they had claimed the wicket of Gregory when Somerset were still 46 runs away from safety.

But they had their fervent appeal for a seventh wicket rejected.

Gregory had 11 when he edged Sam Cook in the slips where a diving Harmer took the ‘catch’ shortly before tea.

Cook was incensed when the batsman stood his ground and had a few stern words at close range.

But the umpires conferred and ruled the ball had not carried.

Harmer just wrung his hand in pain.

Earlier, Hildreth had taken his season’s tally beyond 500 runs with a typically nonchalant and watchful innings.

He put on 92 in 30 overs for the third wicket with his captain Tom Abell as Somerset dug in on a wicket continuing to offer little encouragement to the bowlers.

Hildreth finally departed after a three-and-a-quarter hour stay when Harmer managed to get the pink ball to bounce and Hildreth was taken by surprise and was pinned lbw.

The pair had come together after opener Eddie Byrom added just a single in 25 balls to his overnight 53 when he edged Jamie Porter to wicketkeeper Adam Wheater.

The Hildreth-Abell stand was ended when Ravi Bopara, who had bowled just one over in the defeat by Nottinghamshire last week, removed Abell in the fifth over after lunch when he chased a ball outside off-stump.

Essex delayed taking the new-ball until the 100th over of the innings – 20 overs after it was due – and their patience was rewarded with the eighth delivery when Porter ended Peter Trego’s bright 39 by bowling him.

Dom Bess took ten off a Porter over to take Somerset to a fourth batting point with six balls in hand.

But the returning Wagner dug one in that leapt up at Bess’s throat and the batsman helped the rising ball into Wheater’s gloves.

His aggressive 35, with six fours, had taken just 38 balls.

Wagner finished with three for 122, finally removing Gregory for 22, caught on the third-man boundary by Bopara.

It left Somerset seven runs from their follow-on target of 368 with two wickets in hand.

That threat was ended when Jamie Overton clubbed Wagner through midwicket for four.

The innings was wrapped up when Josh Davey was snapped up at short leg by Ryan ten Doeschate off Harmer and Bopara’s catch at short mid-on to account for Overton in Westley’s only over.