Nottinghamshire were held up by a splendid century from nightwatchman Ollie Rayner during a compelling third day’s play at Trent Bridge.

Rayner was undefeated on 143 as Middlesex declared their innings closed on 300, a deficit of 123. Batting again, Notts reached 22-3 by stumps.

Mick Newell, Notts director of cricket, feels the fourth day is now full of promise. “I don’t think anybody is on top right now,” he said.

“That is probably good for the game. We’ve had a poor last half-hour, which cost us three wickets, so we are effectively 145-3. There’s every chance we will see some sort of run chase tomorrow.

“If they bowled us out by lunch-time we would hope to have a lead of 260 or 270 by then, so it would be set up nicely. The ball that Rayner bowled Hales with turned sharply so if it spins tomorrow Graeme Swann could well be in the game.”

Resuming from their overnight position of 51-3, still some 223 runs away from saving the follow-on, Middlesex began with Rayner and Joe Denly together at the crease.

Denly, who made scores of 45 and 25 when he played two ODIs at Trent Bridge against Australia in 2009, had looked comfortable on the previous evening but was soon sent on his way as Andre Adams claimed his third scalp of the innings, finding an edge which was smartly taken at slip by Alex Hales.

Rayner had an early moment of good fortune as he inside-edged past Chris Read for four.

With over forty runs coming in the first half hour of play Read turned to his England off-spinner. Graeme Swann struck early in both innings of the previous match at Old Trafford but was unable to conjure up an instant success on this occasion.

Accompanied by Dawid Malan, Rayner produced some textbook drives, through the course of the opening session but moved to his fifty with a slice of luck. Driving Swann uppishly, he was fortunate that Neil Edwards couldn’t cling on to a diving one-handed offering at midwicket.

In Swann’s next over another chance went begging, although Hales, in truth, did well to get a hand on a firm slash from the outside edge of Rayner’s bat.

Rayner, passing his previous best score for Middx of 58, was unbeaten on 60 at lunch, with Malan alongside him with 38, as the break came at 156-4.

The first maximum of the innings arrived during the early part of the afternoon as Rayner hooked Broad into the New Stand, some eight rows back. The right-hander had scored a century on his first class debut for Sussex in 2006 but hadn’t been able to add a second during the subsequent 55 matches.

Harry Gurney had taken the initial wicket of the innings and returned to take the fifth. Malan (46) was given out lbw by umpire David Millns, as the stand ended on 119.

Rayner, on 97, suffered some temporary disappointment as a fiercely struck straight drive off Franks smashed into the stumps at the non-strikers end but he then brought up his ton with a similarly well-timed push down the ground.

With the second new ball just two overs away Notts dismissed Neil Dexter (17), lofting Swann to Adams at mid on.

The new cherry brought Gurney his third wicket as he knocked over John Simpson (1) and at tea Middlesex were 32 away from saving the follow-on, on 242-7.

Stuart Broad’s luck finally turned with his first wicket, as Gareth Berg (16) inexplicably shouldered arms and lost his off stump but Rayner immediately followed it up with the boundary that saved the follow-on.

The ninth wicket to fall produced an individual milestone for Graeme Swann. His 650th first class wicket came courtesy of an attempted slog by Tim Murtagh which ended with the ball clattering into his stumps.

Rayner pushed a couple to bring up the third batting point, prompting the declaration.

If one man was able to turn a brilliant day into an even better one it was Rayner who was thrown the ball for the fourth over of Nottinghamshire’s second innings and immediately turned one through the gate to bowl Alex Hales (12).

Neil Edwards (4) also fell cheaply, nicking Finn to Strauss at slip before Rayner closed the day with another success, having Swann (0) taken at silly point by Denly.

Notts ended the session with a healthy overall advantage but both sides will enter the final day still harbouring thoughts of a victory.