Gloucestershire and Hampshire played out an even first day in their winner-takes-all contest at Cheltenham with the home side making 214 for six before rain took out 30 overs.
Having won the toss, five of Gloucestershire’s top six got starts but none of could make a significant score as Hampshire chipped away.
Miles Hammond and George Scott shared 61 for the opening wicket but the innings then stuttered to 173 for six before Jack Taylor, with 34 not out, and Ollie Price, unbeaten on 18, came together. The rain arrived at a bad time with their partnership making good progress, taking Gloucestershire into bonus-point territory.
The hosts elected to bat in front of a good crowd - this being the only weekend cricket of the festival - and after an hour’s play, the mood had brightened further as Hammond and Scott delivered an excellent start, each making 31. Hammond, in good form, drove Kyle Abbott either side of point, added another smart driven boundary off Brad Wheal before pulling him, via an edge, over the slips cordon, albeit off a no ball.
Scott flicked two boundaries off his legs and angled Keith Barker off the back foot wide of third man. His 31 was his highest score of the season, in his fourth match, but he was trapped lbw by Colin de Grandhomme. The New Zealander struck again with one that held its line a fraction to have Hammond caught behind.
In between dismissals, Wheal got one to go away from James Bracey and bowled him for a seven-ball duck. Gloucestershire lost three for 11 in 33 balls and the fine start was undone. Hampshire were then firmly on top as Abbott nipped one back to trap Tom Lace lbw for 19 to leave the home side 104 for four.
Ryan Higgins played with customary vim, driving and flicking Mason Crane for boundaries but misread the flight of a full delivery and drove over the top of it to be bowled for 25 from 24 balls. The pattern continued as Glenn Phillips hoisted Crane over long-on and picked up a ball not that short from Baker over midwicket for sixes but a flat-footed drive at Wheal produced an edge to slip for 47.
The innings was slipping away but Taylor and Price brought up one batting point and the chance of at least another on day two.
Joe Weatherley and Ian Holland put Hampshire on top at Cheltenham with a 174-run opening stand as their side made 270 for five to lead Gloucestershire by 41.
Having taken the final four Gloucestershire wickets for only 15 runs inside six overs of day two to bowl the hosts out for 229, Weatherley and Holland shared a partnership into the 52nd over of the reply.
Weatherley made 78 - his first half-century of the season - and Holland continued his fine campaign with 74 - the sixth score of 50 or more for Hampshire’s leading run scorer.
When they were finally parted, Gloucestershire mounted a comeback taking five for 58 but they are playing catch-up in a game they now cannot afford to lose.
The home side resumed 214 for six with a second batting point in their sights but it proved a disastrous opening.
Jack Taylor, resuming on 34, fell to the 11th ball of the day as a sharp lifter from Kyle Abbott caught him on the glove and popped up for midwicket to run in and take a good catch.
Two balls later, the other overnight batsman, Ollie Price on 18, went to hook Colin de Grandhomme and gloved behind, Hampshire clearly having done their homework on the 20-year-old.
Matt Taylor propped forward and was lbw next ball and Gloucestershire had lost three wickets without adding a run. Dan Worrall pulled Mason Crane to midwicket and Gloucestershire were left with only one point.
With a spring in their step, Hampshire’s openers gave their side a perfect start.
Weatherley drove Worrall through cover and Matt Taylor through mid-on before a thick-edge to third man raised fifty in 101 balls.
Holland had the home attack pulling their hair out with his tendency to play to leg. He flicked three boundaries through the on-side and punished a wide ball from Taylor in his 129-ball fifty.
Gloucestershire were seeing their dreams of Division One disappearing quickly but struck on the stroke of tea as Glenn Phillips found some turn and Holland’s inside edge. Phillips then held Weatherley and Tom Alsop, for 15, at slip.
Tom Prest, on 18, and de Grandhomme, for a five-ball duck, both pushed at balls and were held by Ollie Price in the cordon - the first an outstanding one-handed take - but Nick Gubbins and Lewis McManus took Hampshire to the close in command.
Nick Gubbins’ unbeaten 137 set Hampshire up to press for victory at Cheltenham as they declared 486 for seven before Gloucestershire closed day three 107 for three in their second innings, trailing by 150.
Gubbins first century for his new county, in the second match of his loan from Middlesex ahead of a permanent move, helped his side rack up a massive first-innings lead of 257 and collect three batting points.
Hampshire declared shortly before tea and Mason Crane bowled Miles Hammond for 15 with a beauty that turned out of the footholds, George Scott whacked a full toss to midwicket for 29 and Kyle Abbott flicked the top of James Bracey’s off stump for 8.
It leaves Hampshire firm favourites to secure the victory they need to leapfrog Gloucestershire and qualify for Division One.
How Gloucestershire need an innings like that played by Gubbins, who has shown signs of reviving his career in the past year and a half.
His 1,409 runs helped Middlesex to the 2016 County Championship and suggested he was an England international of the future. But, not helped by injuries, he hasn’t got anywhere near replicating that return in a season since.
Last year’s Bob Willis Trophy brought an improvement in form and 124 for Middlesex at The Oval this season was a highly-acclaimed innings.
He turned down a contract extension at Lord’s, made an immediate move to Hampshire and here provided a perfect hand to give his side the ideal platform to win the game on the final day.
His stand of 38 with wicketkeeper Lewis McManus calmed a wobble on the second evening and on the third morning the pair almost batted through the morning session, extending their alliance to 129, McManus making 39.
Gubbins cut Dan Worrall and drove Matt Taylor through cover to reach fifty in 149 balls. He cut and swept Ollie Price’s off-spin before holding the pose after another sweet cover drive off Taylor.
Two loose deliveries from Glenn Phillips were dispatched before an edged cut against Worrall flew where a slip might have been for his 15th four and his 10th first-class hundred, this in 209 deliveries.
George Scott finally broke the 39-over partnership when McManus pushed to extra-cover but Gloucestershire were left with only one bowling point.
Hampshire qualified for Division One of the LV= Insurance Championship with a seven-wicket win over Gloucestershire on the final day at Cheltenham.
They were made to work hard as Tom Lace’s 118 led 126-overs of second-innings resistance but Gloucestershire were eventually bowled out for 310 and the target of only 54 was dealt with after tea.
It ended Gloucestershire’s dreams of a maiden Championship title as they missed out on a top two finish in Group Two despite winning five matches - only Yorkshire won as many. But three heavy defeats from their final four games - taking a total of just six points from those losses - have cost them. They were well behind here after a weak first innings but, in a repeat of the return fixture back in May, made a good fist of trying to bat through the final day to save the game, with the draw good enough to stay above Hampshire.
Hopes rose of another great escape as Lace made his first century for Gloucestershire but he became just the fifth first-class victim of Joe Weatherley’s career and no-one else could match his longevity. The day began, like day two, with an immediate reward for Hampshire as Glenn Phillips was trapped lbw by Colin de Grandhomme fifth ball of the day.
Phillips thought he’d hit it. Replays were inconclusive. Ryan Higgins and Jack Taylor formed useful stands with Lace but Higgins drove loosely at Keith Barker and edged to slip three overs before lunch and Taylor played around Kyle Abbott and lost his off stump.
Lace remained. He pulled de Grandhomme to reach a 114-ball fifty before Barker was flicked through square leg and then steered to third man to raise a century in 214 balls with 12 fours and two sixes - a pair of top-edged pulls off Abbott and Wheal.
But his fine effort ended in agonising fashion as he shouldered arms to Weatherley’s very part-time off-spin and was plumb lbw. He and the rest of the county hung their heads.
Ollie and Tom Price hung around for 22 overs before another groaning dismissal as Ollie pulled a Mason Crane long-hop into short leg’s back and the rebound popped up for leg slip.
Matt Taylor was then lbw to Wheal shouldering arms before Dan Worrall drove to point.