Liam Dawson scored a defiant first Specsavers County Championship century for three years to put the buffers on Somerset’s title charge.

All-rounder Dawson saved the hosts from an embarrassing first-innings total at Southampton, having arrived at the wicket with his side toiling on 18 for four.

The World Cup winner almost single-handedly batted Hampshire into a strong position with his 103 from 156 balls, taking his team to 196 all out.

It was his eighth first-class hundred for Hampshire and first since notching 116 against Warwickshire in July 2016.

Somerset took three bonus points from the day in their bid to beat Essex to the title, which would be the first in their history. They went into the penultimate round of fixtures with an eight-point advantage over the 2017 champions at the top of the table.

James Vince won the toss and decided to bat on a very green-topped pitch.

In the next 12 overs that appeared to be a curious decision as Hampshire crumpled to 24 for five - with Lewis Gregory and Josh Davey sharing the five scalps.

It took just three deliveries for Gregory to make his first breakthrough, as Felix Organ edged to first slip while trying a back-foot drive.

Tom Alsop was bowled by a delightful delivery from Davey, which shaped in and then nipped away before Sam Northeast was brilliantly caught by Roelof Van der Merwe at gully.

Vince and Ian Holland also departed to Gregory, whose seven morning overs returned three for 24 before ending with figures of three for 63, the former while attempting a straight drive and the latter caught at second slip.

Aneurin Donald left Hampshire 57 for six when he was caught off Davey, before Lewis McManus departed soon after lunch when he was snaffled at point.

At 88 for seven, the home side were facing a sub-100 total but Dawson and Keith Barker put on 92 to even the game back up.

Dawson picked up on anything too straight to flick through the leg-side, with all but 26 of his runs coming on the on-side.

He brought up his fifty, the sixth of his Championship season, with a pull to the boundary from 90 balls.

Dawson accelerated slightly towards three figures with the only six of the day coming in the 53rd over with a powerful pull, with the ageing ball calming down in the afternoon session.

The three-Test player arrived at his century in 154 balls with a sumptuous straight drive.

Barker had supported him well with a well-made 40 from 76 balls before both departed in back-to-back overs.

Barker fell lbw to Dom Bess before Dawson made his first mistake when he edged Tom Abell behind.

Somerset skipper Abell then quickly wrapped up the innings two overs later when he castled Fidel Edwards.

Like Hampshire earlier, Somerset struggled against the moving led new ball to end the day on 30 for two - with Kyle Abbott picking up both wickets.

The South African had Murali Vijay for a nine-ball duck before bowling Steve Davies to post two for one from six overs before a series of bad-light interruptions eventually curtailed the day.

Dawson said: “I played nicely. Going in 80 for four you are under a lot of pressure but I looked to counter attack.

“It was tough work but we saw with the Surrey wicket last week that if you get a score on the board then batting gets difficult later on.

“From where we were that was a good score. We’re still in the game. If we can bowl them out for a similar score then we will be in a pretty good position.

“It is one of the quickest pitches I’ve played on here in the last couple of years. There’s more bounce and zip than usual. When it is doing something it is doing it quicker.

“I felt like my first 30 or 40 balls that if I put some pressure on the bowlers then they would have to change their lines and lengths and I feel I did that fairly well.”

Dawson has now scored 1000-plus runs in all competitions for Hampshire this season.

“I feel like I’ve batted well all summer in all formats,” he continued. “I’m happy with where by batting it at the moment.

“You have to play on your instincts. You could sit in and get out but I felt the best opportunity was to counter attack.Barks played a crucial knock of getting 40, we were 80 for seven when he came in, and got us up to a score. It was brilliant to bat with him.”

Hampshire first innings

FS Organ c Hildreth b Gregory 0
IG Holland c Vijay b Overton 4
TP Alsop b Davey 3
SA Northeast c van der Merwe b Gregory 6
JM Vince (c) b Gregory 6
LA Dawson c †Davies b Abell 103
AHT Donald c Overton b Davey 9
LD McManus † c Bess b Overton 11
KHD Barker lbw b Bess 40
KJ Abbott not out 7
FH Edwards b Abell 0
Extras 7 (b 2, lb 5)
TOTAL 196 all out (58.4 overs)
Fall of wickets: 1-0 (Felix Organ, 0.3 ov), 2-3 (Tom Alsop, 3.4 ov), 3-12 (Sam Northeast, 6.1 ov), 4-18 (James Vince, 8.2 ov), 5-24 (Ian Holland, 11.6 ov), 6-57 (Aneurin Donald, 16.6 ov), 7-88 (Lewis McManus, 31.2 ov), 8-180 (Keith Barker, 55.2 ov), 9-190 (Liam Dawson, 56.6 ov), 10-196 (Fidel Edwards, 58.4 ov)
BOWLING: L Gregory 15-2-63-3, JH Davey 13-4-34-2, C Overton 15-3-46-2, TB Abell 7.4-1-25-2, DM Bess 8-1-21-1.

Somerset first innings
M Vijay lbw b Abbott 0
SM Davies † b Abbott 10
TB Abell (c) not out 15
JC Hildreth not out 0
Extras 5 (lb 1, nb 4)
TOTAL 30-2 (11 overs)
Yet to bat: T Banton, GA Bartlett, L Gregory, DM Bess, C Overton, RE van der Merwe, JH Davey
Fall of wickets: 1-12 (Murali Vijay, 2.4 ov), 2-23 (Steven Davies, 8.2 ov)
BOWLING: KJ Abbott 6-5-1-2, KHD Barker 5-0-28-0