In many ways it was typical of the schizophrenic nature of their cricket, a state that has befallen them since Graham Gooch's retirement in 1997, that they took nine Nottinghamshire wickets for 126, before finishing the day on 97 for 2. Essex have always possessed the capacity to play inspired cricket, it is just that its frequency has diminished.
Once Jason Gallian and Guy Welton had fallen in successive overs, only Tim Robinson - in what may prove to be his valedictory innings after 21 seasons at Trent Bridge - featured with a fluent 66. It helped that his first five scoring shots, untypically, all went to the boundary, but a man who knows his limitations with the bat, often prospers over those who do not.
After a woeful first day, that saw their opponents race to 223 for 1, it was a spirited riposte by Nasser Hussain's team, a futile one, following Sussex's defeat by Warwickshire. Even if Essex win here with maximum points, they cannot overhaul enough teams to finish in the top nine, the cut off point.
David Thompson, a scattergun the previous day, was the pick of the bowlers once play got under way after lunch. Coming off a shorter run, he directed the ball to the business areas at pace and reaped his reward with 4 for 4 in 27 balls.
The home side had nothing to match his pace, though the left-armer David Lucas bowled Paul Grayson with an in-ducker that the opener played over the top of. Paul Prichard, playing well until adjudged lbw, soon followed, which allowed the prolific Stuart Law to join his captain at the crease.
So far, Law has looked inform. Essex's fate may be sealed, but this match may yet provide something for them and their supporters to winter on.