England suffered a calamitous top order collapse but pushed their lead over Australia to 166 runs at tea on the third day of the fourth Ashes test in Melbourne on Saturday.
Australia seamer Mitchell Johnson continued his fairytale series, trapping England captain Alastair Cook in front for 51 and having a hand in two further wickets as the tourists lost three wickets for one run to limp to the interval at 115-4.
Kevin Pietersen, who top-scored with 71 in the first innings, will resume on 14, with Ben Stokes on 13 on a steamy day in front of a crowd of more than 60,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Despite stumbling badly in the session, England will nonetheless fancy their chances of setting a competitive target at a ground where fourth innings totals average 169.
The highest successful fourth innings chase at the MCG was made by England in 1928, when they mowed down 332 runs for victory over the hosts.
No team, however, has chased down more than South Africa's 183 in 2008 since the first use of drop-in wickets at the venue in 1996. England had resumed on a fairly untroubled 54-0 following lunch, after bowling Australia out for 204 in the first hour of the morning to take a 51-run lead.
The 29-year-old Cook had become the youngest cricketer to reach 8,000 test runs, eclipsing Sachin Tendulkar by 21 days, and raced to his third half-century of the series in the third over after lunch with a pair of stylish back-cuts to the fence.
Having seemed on the verge of a big captain's knock that has eluded him throughout the back-to-back Ashes series, Cook faced only four more balls to be trapped in front by a sizzling inswinger from paceman Mitchell Johnson.
Cook's fellow opener Michael Carberry had scratched around for 12 runs off his 81 balls before seamer Peter Siddle also trapped him leg before wicket.
The second wicket appeared to unsettle Joe Root, who called batting partner Kevin Pietersen through for a foolhardy single off the bowling of spinner Nathan Lyon in the next over.
Johnson swooped at mid-off and threw the stumps down with Root well short to be out for 15. Two balls later, Bell was out for a first-ball duck, inexplicably spooning an innocuous Lyon delivery straight to a disbelieving Johnson at mid-off, sparking thunderous roars at the stadium.
Pietersen and New Zealand-born all-rounder Stokes, who scored England's first and only century of the series in Perth, dug in and watchfully guided England to the break.
Earlier, Australia's final wicket partnership between Brad Haddin and Lyon had yielded a valuable 40 runs before paceman James Anderson struck to remove the wicketkeeper for 65.
The 36-year-old Haddin became the first batsman at seventh or lower in the order to post four first innings half-centuries in a series, and also surpassed Englishman Alec Stewart's 378 runs on home soil in 1993 to become the highest-scoring wicketkeeper in an Ashes series.
Enjoying some of the best form of his career, Haddin cracked seven fours and a six before flailing at a short ball that soared high in the air, allowing fellow wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow to take a simple catch square of the wicket.
Lyon was 18 not out after slogging three boundaries and providing commendable support. Anderson finished the pick of England's bowlers with 4-67, with fellow seamer Stuart Broad taking 3-45. Australia hold an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-test series. The final match starts in Sydney on Jan. 3.