Northants’ chances of promotion from the LV= Championship Division Two were boosted on Saturday as rivals Essex could only draw their clash with Kent at Canterbury.
Rain and bad light came to the aid of Northants, as Essex were forced to settle for the draw from a match they dominated.
It means, that with just two matches of the season remaining, the County have a more than handy 21-point advantage over Essex, who would have closed that gap to just eight if they had won at Canterbury.
Essex had been on course for a victory but only 28.4 overs were possible on the final day as Kent wriggled off the hook to finish 215 for seven after being asked to follow-on.
Heavy overnight rain and persistent drizzle led to an early lunch and inspections by the umpires Jeremy Lloyds and Neil Mallender at 12.30pm and 1.30pm were followed by an early lunch at 2.40pm.
The officials looked again at 3pm and decided play could start at 3.30pm with a minimum 32 overs remaining in the match and with Kent resuming on 113 for four - requiring a further 56 to make Essex bat again.
The hosts suffered an early loss when their top-scorer and opening bat Sam Northeast departed to the 12th ball following the resumption.
Playing back and across the line to a full-length delivery from left-arm seamer Reece Topley, Northeast departed lbw without addition to his overnight score of 70.
Northeast, who started his 168-minute stay on day two of the game, departed at 3.36pm on the fourth and final afternoon ensuring he still awaits his maiden championship century of the summer.
He was replaced by Kent’s acting captain Geraint Jones who, despite light drizzle and grey skies, cracked three rasping boundaries in a brief stay under the floodlights.
Half forward to another Topley in-swinger, Jones also departed lbw for a cameo 12 from 13 balls to make it 149 for six.
Darren Stevens combined with Calum Haggett to take Kent’s past 169, ensuring Essex had to bat again whilst also taking two overs out of the shortened day for a change of innings.
Stevens became the first Kent batsman to post 1,000 first-class runs, in front of fewer than 30 supporters, for the season when he reached 36.
Stevens duly went on to a 67-ball 50 with five fours but, with his score on 67, he chipped a loose delivery from former Northants man Monty Panesar into the hands of Owais Shah at extra cover to make it 198 for seven.
With the light fading fast Essex were forced to operate their spinners Panesar and Greg Smith in tandem and, despite a crowded close field, Kent’s eighth-wicket pair of Haggett (15) and Mark Davies (10) were able to add a precious 20 runs and see Kent through to 5.12pm when the players shook hands on the draw.
Kent banked six points for their 10th draw of the campaign that ensures it will be Leicestershire who suffer the ignominy of collecting the LV= Championship wooden spoon.
Essex made the short journey home with eight points, but their failure to win ensures they now trail second-placed Northants by 21 points - a gap they are unlikely to make up with only two matches of the campaign remaining.
Northants are back in action on Tuesday when they play their final home match of the season, against Kent.
Essex are also playing, and they host Glamorgan.
A Northants win against Kent would all but seal promotion for David Ripley’s men.