COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP DIVISION ONE, Chelmsford:
CLOSE OF PLAY, DAY TWO: Essex 268 & 103-1, Durham 177
Essex 5 pts, Durham 3 pts
Essex's inevitable relegation back to Division Two was finally confirmed despite one of their best bowling performance of the season.
Chris Wright (5-70) and Tony Palladino (4-57) both produced their best figures of the season against champions Durham.
Essex had bowled out Durham for 177 to earn a 91-run first-innings lead before reaching 103-1 by the close, but events elsewhere sent them down.
Hampshire's third bowling bonus point at Canterbury sealed Essex's fate.
By the close, Essex, promoted just a year ago, had at least given themselves a good chance of bowing out with victory in their final game, having gained an overall advantage of 194 thanks to an unbeaten 61 from England opener Alastair Cook.
After Liam Plunkett had claimed the final Essex wicket in the morning to bowl them out in their first innings for 268, Durham suffered a horrendous start to their reply.
They lost their first four wickets for only five runs, with Wright and Palladino each claiming a couple.
Swing rather than seam proved the batsmen's undoing but it was never as pronounced as the early clatter of wickets suggested.
A recovery of sorts stemmed from the efforts of the middle order, Ben Harmison playing the leading role with 66.
He shared in a fifth-wicket stand of 53 with Ian Blackwell, who made 24, before the latter's defences were breached by Palladino.
Phil Mustard then scored 31 in a stand of 45 before the same bowler struck again.
When Wright removed both Scott Borthwick and Plunkett, Durham found themselves 108-8, still 11 runs short of avoiding the follow-on.
But the arrival of Mitch Claydon quickly ended such fears as he and the in-form Harmison proceeded to put together the highest partnership of the innings.
Claydon hit an unbeaten 38 in a stand that yielded 62 before Harmison, after reaching a season's best, provided young paceman Michael Comber with the first Championship wicket of his career by driving into the hands of Wright at mid-off.