The defending champions were themselves forced to bat out a draw against bottom side Northamptonshire at the Oval, but extended their lead at the top of Division One to 20 points heading into next week’s final round of games, after Hampshire completed a superb run-chase in the final over of the day at Chelmsford.
Essex had won six games on the spin to keep long-time leaders Surrey honest into the final stretch of the campaign and having set Hants a target of 268, smelt a seventh as the visitors fell to 32-for-four in their pursuit.
However, 119 from Liam Dawson and 89 from James Vince helped Hampshire to victory seven-down with just five deliveries left in the match.
The result means a draw for Surrey away at Hampshire next week will be enough to seal the title, while Essex must hope for a Hampshire victory and win convincingly themselves against now relegated Northants to have any chance of lifting the trophy. Even that may not be enough, though, depending on the number of bonus points picked up by each side.
Trailing by 172 first innings runs, Surrey looked in trouble after being asked to follow-on on day four at the Oval, but an unbroken century stand between Dom Sibley and Rory Burns ensured Northants never seriously threatened the victory that would have kept their slim survival hopes alive.
Replying to Northants’ 357, Surrey lost their final four wickets to be bowled out for 185 on the final morning, Jack White again impressing with the ball to finish with figures of four-for-45.
At that stage, Northants, needing to win, might have dangled a carrot by setting the home side a target for victory with an immediate declaration, but opted to enforce the follow-on in the hope of skittling Gareth Batty’s side cheaply once more.
Instead they found Burns (71* off 196) and Sibley (67* off 188) in resolute form, the opening pair guiding Surrey to 142 without loss when a downpour soon after tea saw hands shaken on the draw.
Across London at Lord’s, the rain was not enough to save relegation threatened Middlesex from a damaging eight-wicket defeat to Warwickshire.
Seeking to avoid an immediate return to Division Two, Middlesex slipped from 227 for four to be all-out for 251 in their second innings, despite opener Sam Robson carrying his bat to finish unbeaten on 107, his and the county’s second hundred of the summer.
That left Warwickshire a target of just 58 for victory, and while the heavens opened during the innings break, play was able to resume, with Ed Barnard and Rob Yates steering their side home.
Middlesex now go into the final week second-bottom and needing to overturn a one-point deficit to Kent to avoid the drop.