A frustrating afternoon for Northamptonshire in the field has put the Specsavers County Championship clash with Middlesex back into the balance going into day four.

Max Holden and James Harris gave Middlesex hope of producing a remarkable turnaround by adding 121 for the seventh wicket on the third afternoon to help take their team to 374-9 following-on, leading by 215.

At 166-6 just after lunch, and a lead of just seven, Middlesex were slumping to defeat. But Holden and Harris gathered themselves and began to work their side back into the game with careful, considered batting with the clouds parting and the zip from the surface easing.

Holden led the resistance, simply happy to occupy the crease. Harris was a more jittery early on and cut and missed several times and edged Brett Hutton just short of first slip. But he too was prepared to ground it out and take the innings as deep as possible.

Holden, on the ground where he spent a profitable loan spell last season, got to within six of a maiden Middlesex century against the second new ball but, agonisingly, drove loosely at Brett Hutton and edged to second slip. He peeled himself from the field having undone all his hard work with a shot he had largely ignored for his previous 163 balls.

After Holden fell, the lead was only 128 and Northants had ambitions to run through the lower order. But Harris wasn’t finished and went past his own half-century and was 79 not out at the close, sharing a stand of 54 with Ethan Bamber on debut, and No. 11 Tim Murtagh then holding out to stumps.

Such a recovery was beyond the ambitions of the most ardent Middlesex supporter as they slumped just after lunch with Northamptonshire again excellent with the ball. They took three wickets in three overs after an initially quiet 45 minutes play. Nathan Buck nipped a ball into Stevie Eskinazi to win an lbw decision before Rory Kleinveldt swung a ball into Dawid Malan to remove his off-bail for just five and another to Eoin Morgan that trapped him LBW for a third-ball duck.

Sam Robson battled away well for 11 cloudy overs on the second evening and went on to make 72 – his highest score of the season – before gloving a catch down the leg-side in the final over before lunch and when Robbie White was caught at slip for 5 after the break, the game was only heading one way.

But Holden and Harris ensured Middlesex have a fighting chance of pulling off what would be a remarkable win.