Tough day leaves County firmly on the back foot
Hughes’s 104 was the first time he had scored a hundred since his 270 at Headingly in May 2013 and his opening stand of 205 with Ben Slater who made 96 laid the platform for Derbyshire to declare on 407 for 5, setting Northants an improbable victory target of 427.
Any slim hopes they harboured were quickly dashed by Mark Footitt who removed both openers in his first three overs and at the close, Northants were 40 for 2, still 387 short of what would be the highest fourth innings total in their history.
Derbyshire were already well placed at the start of the day, 95 runs on with all wickets intact, and Slater and Hughes batted patiently to slowly close the door on Northants.
Not even a couple of short rain breaks could disrupt their concentration as they denied the visitors the breakthroughs that would have put them back in the contest.
Hughes went to his fifty off 143 balls, his first in the Championship since June 2013, while Slater completed his third in as many matches this season from 160 to extend Derbyshire’s lead to 188 at lunch.
Northants plugged away with part time off-spinner Rob Keogh bowling 33 overs unchanged from the Racecourse End but it was only when the batsmen upped the tempo that wickets started to fall.
Hughes was lbw on the back foot to Keogh and Slater’s five-and-a-quarter hour vigil ended when he flashed at Willey who then got one through Hashim Amla’s defences to bowl the South African captain.
But it was now a question of when Derbyshire pulled out and after skipper Wayne Madsen and Harvey Hosein had added 68 in 10 overs, Northants were left with eight overs to face before stumps.
It was always likely to be an awkward period and so it proved as Stephen Peters fell to the first ball when he played too soon at Footitt and chipped a gentle catch to short midwicket.
Kyle Coetzer survived a difficult chance to fourth slip but was caught behind pushing at Footitt to leave Derbyshire holding the best hand going into the final day.
“We’ve had a good three days,” Madsen said. “The wicket is deteriorating quite a bit and tomorrow it will take a bit more turn so it puts us in a strong position.
“We are expecting them to come at us but on this type of a wicket we will back ourselves to get enough chances and as long as we take them we will hopefully be victorious at the end.”
Keogh admitted he was looking forward to an early night after his marathon shift. “I knew I would be bowling some overs but wasn’t expecting that many on the bounce so I’m looking forward to a good kip!
“We bat all the way down and they scored nicely so if we dig deep, I’m sure we can try and pull through.”