ESSEX'S seamers destroyed the Middlesex top order for the second time in 24 hours as they closed in on victory on day three of their LV= Insurance County Championship clash at Lord’s.

Chasing 308 to win, Middlesex’s first four batters were all on a pair after the havoc wreaked by Jamie Porter’s six wickets on day two.

And the mental scars of that had clearly not healed as the hosts quickly plummeted to 15 for three, Sam Cook the chief architect with an opening burst of two for four.

Max Holden and John Simpson also succumbed to the spin of Simon Harmer and Matt Critchley respectively as Middlesex closed on 77 for five, with Cook finishing on two for 16.

Earlier, Critchley’s 53 ensured Essex reached 211 in their second innings, Tim Murtagh taking four for 44.

The story once again revolved around Middlesex’s front-line batters crumbling in their first taste of Division One cricket since promotion last summer.

Mark Stoneman relieved Sam Robson of the responsibility of facing the first ball, a decision which backfired when, three balls in, first-innings nemesis Porter (one for 24) pinned him in front, although replays suggested he may have been outside the line.

Robson survived the king pair but reached only three before suffering the same fate at the hands of Cook, who then had Essex’s third lbw appeal against Pieter Malan upheld, the South African this time making four with Middlesex again in tatters.

Max Holden briefly lifted the gloom, driving the ball well, especially square of the wicket, but he was cut off in his prime, a victim of the wiles of Simon Harmer and the 13th lbw of the match.

And Middlesex’s day was summed up in the penultimate over when Simpson clouted a full toss back into the hands of the grateful Critchley.

Middlesex raised eyebrows at start of play by throwing the new ball to Ryan Higgins ahead of Murtagh at the Nursery End.

The ploy nearly worked with the medium pacer rapping Sir Alastair Cook on the pad in the first few overs, but his vociferous appeal was not upheld.

Scare survived, Cook and Browne prospered against some initially wayward bowling. When Murtagh relieved Higgins he was immediately driven for four by Cook, who then deposited his next offering into the Mound Stand for six.

Murtagh gained recompense when Browne drove loosely to be caught at cover for 24 soon after raising the half-century stand.

Cook also failed to overly prosper from his earlier reprieve, brilliantly caught and bowled by Higgins for 28, and Tom Westley departed before lunch to a leg-side strangle.

However, by then Essex had turned their 96-run lead into one of almost 200.

Critchley was Essex’s mainstay through the afternoon and in company first with day one centurion Dan Lawrence and then Harmer he reached his fifty with the help of eight boundaries.

Critchley and Harmer were eventually victims of a frugal afternoon spell from Murtagh, unusually bowling from the Pavilion End, but by then Essex appeared to have enough in the bank.