Essex's hopes of gaining a substantial first innings lead over Hampshire in their LV County Championship match failed because of the shortcomings of their middle and late-order batsmen.
A century third wicket partnership involving Ravi Bopara and Jesse Ryder had provided a foundation for a sizeable advantage as they carried the total to 187 but a combination of nagging accuracy and a reluctance of the batsmen to try and seize the initiative saw Essex fall well short of expectation.
Once Ryder departed soon after lunch, only Greg Smith of the remaining seven batsmen managed to reach 20 and that took him just short of an hour to compile.
Essex had started the third day on 70 for one, 176 runs adrift of their opponents, and quickly lost Tom Westley for 37 as spinner Liam Dawson found just enough turn to bowl him.
However, Bopara and Ryder dug in to put Essex in the ascendancy despite Jimmy Adams continually juggling his attack in an attempt to remove them.
For the most part, Bopara was content to defend but at the same time, wasted no time to punish the wayward delivery when it came along, a fact underlined by his 50 containing 10 fours and a six.
Ryder was much more fluent and twice struck Dawson for six and also gathered five fours in moving to his half-century from 74 balls.
The New Zealander had contributed 69 of a 114 partnership when he was bowled by left-arm spinner Danny Briggs, a dismissal that opened the door for the visitors to make steady inroads into the innings.
Ryan ten Doeschate scored just a single before cutting the same bowler to cover point before Bopara's four-and-a-quarter hours at the crease which spanned 254 deliveries was ended when he fell lbw to the medium-paced James Tomlinson for 79 - 54 of those runs coming in boundaries.
Dawson took a fine catch low down at second slip to remove James Foster for 18 and provide Tomlinson with another success, while Graham Napier was trapped lbw playing back to fast bowler Nathan Rimmington for nine to leave the hosts 254 for seven.
Wicket-keeper Adam Wheater then pulled off a low diving catch to get rid of Smith with Rimmington again being the successful bowler leaving Essex 259 for eight while Sajid Mahmood was still seeking to get off the mark when he was bowled playing back to Dawson.
Monty Panesar brought some relief by on-driving Dawson for six to the third ball he faced and had made 13 from a dozen deliveries before Tim Phillips was run out for 12 after attempting a second bye in order to retain the strike.
This left Hampshire only 39 runs adrift and they started off in aggressive manner, the first five scoring strokes all reaching the boundary. However with the overall scores level, they lost Adams, a victim of left-arm Phillips in his first over when caught by ten Doeschate at leg gully for 18.
The visitors though suffered no further setbacks as Michael Carberry (48) and Will Smith (13) took them to the close and an overall lead of 44 runs Essex all-rounder Smith said: ''We didn't really bowl very well tonight and it's going to be hard work tomorrow to bowl them out although it is turning a bit. We need to take a good few wickets early in the first session otherwise it's probably going to be a dull draw.''
Hampshire's Wheater added: ''I think the first session could be vital for either side. Our guys stuck to their guns well today and the way that Michael Carberry played when we had to start our second innings with almost an hour to bat was exceptional.''