Despite James Anderson returning his career-best LV= County Championship figures for Lancashire, the visitors’ hopes of pipping Surrey for the Division Two title look almost over.
The England fast bowler returned figures of seven for 77 from 31.5 overs as Essex were bowled out for 394.
Lancashire’s cricketers then responded with 131 for two before the final 32 overs were lost to adverse weather conditions and with only a day remaining and Surrey firm favourites to complete victory against Northamptonshire at The Oval, Lancashire look likely to have to accept second spot.
The opening day’s play was completely washed out before Essex, after being put in, reached the close on day two at 328 for seven.
Anderson underlined his class when play resumed capturing the last three wickets to beat his previous best in a Lancashire sweater - six for 23 against Hampshire at Southampton - 13 years ago.
He started by finding the edge when having James Foster caught in the slips by Karl Brown, his 15th haul of five wickets or more in an innings for his county at championship level.
Graham Napier did have the satisfaction of despatching Anderson for a six with a powerful drive on his way 31, which also included five fours, but he was then trapped leg before.
The fast bowler went on to wrap up the Essex innings when his pace and accuracy proved too much for Jamie Porter.
Sharing the main workload with Anderson was Glen Chapple who claimed two for 88 from 33 overs, the other wicket falling to Tom Bailey at a cost of 87 runs from 15 overs.
Lancashire were given an encouraging start in reply by Brown and Haseeb Hameed, the pair putting together an opening stand of 66, although it should have come to an end before then.
Brown, on 27, was dropped by Nick Browne at midwicket but only made 12 more before he was caught down the leg side by Foster off Napier.
By then, Hameed, after an unconvincing start, was batting with increasing confidence as he went on to complete his half-century from 106 deliveries and eight fours.
Shortly before tea, having taken his total to 63, he was removed by Jesse Ryder, caught at first slip by Alastair Cook. His innings spanned 126 balls and included 10 fours.
Luis Reece had reached 25 that included a six off Ravi Bopara when play was ended for the day. Just before tea, bad light then rain sent the players to the pavilion and the inclement weather continued for over an hour afterwards.
When it finally stopped, the sun emerged but umpires Nick Cook and Michael Burns judged that the outfield was too wet to allow a resumption of play despite the efforts of the ground staff.