Beleaguered England survived their first full day of resistance on Sunday but the prospect of another heavy defeat loomed large heading into the final day of the second Ashes Test in Adelaide.
The Ashes holders were set an improbable target of 531 runs over the final two days to prevent the rampant Australians from charging to a two-nil lead in the five-Test series.
The tourists have four wickets left and will go into Monday's fifth day without their front-line batsmen after a confrontational and tense day's cricket. Rain is forecast on the final day.
At the close, England were fighting hard at 247 for six with Matt Prior on 31 and Stuart Broad not out 22. They trailed Australia by 284 runs.
England had a minor triumph when they passed 200 for the first time in four innings in the series, but defeat looked inevitable after losing the first Gabba Test by 381 runs.
Joe Root, elevated to the number three spot vacated by Jonathan Trott, showed plenty of fight to hold out for 267 minutes for 87 while Kevin Pietersen contributed 53 off 99 balls.
Debutant Ben Stokes dug in and resisted for 90 balls before he was caught at second slip off Ryan Harris for 28 with six overs left in the day. Stokes had an ugly brush of shoulders with Mitchell Johnson in the previous over.
Root (87) missed out on his third Test century in unfortunate circumstances. The young Yorkshireman played back to spinner Nathan Lyon and got an inside edge that ran off his pad for wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to dive forward and take his 200th Test catch.
Root showed plenty of character in his 194-ball knock with nine fours after coming into bat at one for one in the second over of the second innings.
Peter Siddle grabbed the crucial breakthrough, ending England's first century partnership of the series when he bowled Pietersen off an inside edge.
And shortly before tea, Ian Bell was on his way back to the dressing room for six after playing an injudicious shot off part-time leg-spinner Steve Smith.
Pietersen put on 111 runs for the third wicket with Root after the tourists lost openers Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry cheaply in the morning session.
It was a big wicket for Australia, with Pietersen having scored 227 and 158 in his previous two Ashes Tests at the ground. It was the ninth time Siddle has dismissed Pietersen in Tests, including twice in this match.
Senior batsman Bell hung his head after belting a Smith full-toss to man of the moment Mitchell Johnson, who took a sprawling catch at mid-on. Bell had top-scored with an unbeaten 72 in England's first innings of 172.
Michael Clarke declared Australia's second innings at the overnight score of 132-3, and England, who beat Australia 3-0 at home earlier this year, got off to a shaky start, losing Cook for one in Johnson's opening over and Carberry 10 overs later.
Cook's scalp was Johnson's eighth wicket of the match after he captured seven for 40 in England's first innings. The left-arm paceman now has 17 wickets in the series. The skipper was out to Johnson's third ball of his opening over, hitting the ball straight to Ryan Harris at fine leg.
It was a demoralising moment for England, needing to occupy the crease and bat out the final two days. The cheap dismissal completed a dire Test for Cook, who was spectacularly bowled by Johnson for three in the first innings.
In his past seven Tests against Australia, the England captain has scored 359 runs at an average of 25.
Carberry, who batted sensibly for 60 in the first innings, was out hooking Siddle for 14 in the 12th over, leaving England 20-2. Lyon, positioned on the fine leg rope, took the catch just above the ground.
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